Karen Davis was recognized from a young age for her artistic talent and was frequently encouraged to pursue it professionally. But without parents that properly encouraged her skills growing up she struggled to find her direction as an artist into adulthood.

When Karen Davis began pursuing art full time in 2019, her husband Kel encouraged her to use her daughters’ bedroom as her studio because it has the best lighting in the house. At the same time, Karen helped push Kel to follow his dream of becoming a pilot. If one of them is worried about not being successful, the other will positively support them to continue. “We have that confidence. I guess we just don't have it in ourselves, we have it for the other person,” Karen said. “We just support one another.”

The infrequent sounds of scissors, hammers, and bending metal quietly echo in Karen Davis’s small home studio. She sits cross-legged in her chair at her work, dutifully studying the copper sheet in her hands as speckles of sunlight break through the lace curtains over the window in front of her. She works over the organized clutter of the tools, metal, books, plants, and trinkets spread across the table.
“When I create art, it’s not because I want to, but I need to,” Karen said.
It took many years for Karen to admit she wanted to be an artist, knowing that she was seen as weird and lacking confidence in the artistic skills she was consistently commended for. Her father and stepmother did not easily recognize her artistry, so Karen felt she lacked the support in her art and other interests that would have helped her accept herself more.

“I think they tried the best they could,” Karen said. “But I think for my mind it didn’t quite meet.”

Karen spent time at college studying illustration, where she was introduced to three dimensional artistic mediums. But she was forced to take a break for several years after getting married and having her two daughters, Aspen and Lily.

"I thought I was giving up," Karen said.

But it was her daughters that helped inspire her to begin making tole botanicals.

Karen Davis tones the canvases she builds herself, preparing them for oil paint while in her home studio in Lebanon, Tn. on Nov. 11, 2022. It can take at least a month for Karen to complete one piece as she works on the canvas, flowers, and waits for the paint to dry. She could make art that doesn’t take as long, but knows she wouldn’t be as happy. “I like combining these weird things,” Karen said. “That tedious stuff, I think I just love it.”

Karen Davis, left, helps her daughter Aspen pull the wrapping off of crafting project Aspen was working on while in her home studio in Lebanon, Tn. on Nov. 11, 2022. Karen is frequently interrupted by her daughters as she works because they ask for help with the art projects they work on. “I don’t expect my kids to be artists, I never have,” Karen said. “I want them to create their own beauty and I think they're doing that.”

After moving to their home and planting new garden in their gardens, Karen Davis’s two daughters collected plants from around their yard and bring them inside. While her husband, Kel, threw them away, Karen collected them and began to be inspired. “Lily, my youngest, had actually put them on handkerchiefs, and it was that square shape that inspired me to make those [square canvases],” Karen said. “My children are definitely an inspiration for my art.”

She studied the flowers her daughters picked in her garden and tried to replicate them, trying a few different materials, from clay to paper before settling on copper. Through research, experimenting, and a lot of mistakes she taught herself how to work with metal, what paint to use, how to adhere the flowers to the canvas, and how to epoxy the final product.
"I'm always trying to figure something out," Karen said. "That's half the fun of it."

A zinnia picked from Karen Davis’s garden sits on her work table as she works on replicating it with copper, helping her see the details of the flower as she cuts and molds the copper petals in her home studio in Lebanon, Tn. on Nov. 11, 2022. She studies different flowers and plants by pulling apart their petals and leaves, tracing them and studying their textures. “It really it's almost like the pieces are whispering to me what they need,” Karen said. “The flowers know where they want to bend. It's very intuitive.”

Karen Davis’s youngest daughter Lily, left, sits on her lap and watches her work while her other daughter Aspen, right, draws behind in Karen’s home studio in Lebanon, Tn. on Nov. 11, 2022. She leaves the door to her studio open, making it easy for her children to come in. They’ve learned how to step around the messes and copper. “When I work in my studio, they'll be on the floor and they'll be making flowers out of clay or drawing them,” Karen said. “They'll be creating what I'm making and I'm not lonely.”

Karen worries that she waited too long, that she’s too old, and that there are other more successful artists. But she reminds herself that she wouldn’t have been ready for what she creates now if she tried it earlier in her life. She needed the experience of being a mother and taking a break to discover other interests.

“My husband says that there’s a part of you that was lost that is resurfacing,” Karen said. “Revisiting art has helped me gain my confidence back.”

With her family encouraging her, Karen is opening herself for new opportunities and avenues with the art that she creates. As she does so she can appreciate the feeling of peace that creating gives her, and continue to grow both as an artist and a mother.
"I think that's why I ignored everything else," Karen said. "Because I found what I was searching for."

Aspen Davis, right, sits and watches her mom, Karen, draw lines and plant sketches onto her canvases in her home studio in Lebanon, Tn. on Nov. 11, 2022. Karen attributes part of her growth as an artist to being a mother, helping her manage her time better and be patient as she helps her husband care for their daughters. “I’m trying to find the balance,” Karen said. “You can focus on the bad parts or you can focus on the parts that make you happy. So I focus on the magic.”