Painter creates holiday cheer

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NORTH BEND — Karen McKibben's art is temporary. But

the Valley-born painter doesn't mind because it's meant to be that way.

She creates window art that graces the panes of many North Bend stores.

McKibben loves her work and only paints windows during the

holiday season. She adorns windows with cheery snowmen, Santa and his

reindeer, cartoon characters and religious figures — all designs she has

created herself over the years.

"I like when people stop by and talk to me and enjoy what I'm

doing and when everyone likes my window paintings," she said.

Her work can be found on the windows of the Jeweler's Bench and

the Drug Center in the QFC shopping center, and Kutters, El Caporal and

the Village Dry Cleaners in the Mount Si Village shopping center.

"The kids really love it, and the adults like it as well," said

Sandra Curnow, owner of the Jeweler's Bench. "It puts everybody in

the Christmas spirit; it just adds a little joy.

"If I didn't think highly of her, I wouldn't have her come back

every year," she said, adding that this is

the second year she has hired McKibben. "She has a great imagination, and

she can put on windows what a lot of people have a hard time saying."

Paintings are done on the inside or outside of storefronts, depending

on the angle of rain and wind. She uses bright acrylic paint that lasts

for weeks.

"If there's lots of schoolkids walking by, then I do it on the inside,"

she chuckled, adding that children are too often tempted to scrape or touch

the paint because they're naturally curious.

One thing that many people don't realize is the difficulty in achieving

the correct balance of paint for the scenes, and how long they take to complete.

"They're harder than they look. It took awhile to figure out how to

paint on glass," she said, adding that it

takes two to four hours to complete one painting.

"When I only do one a day, it's really meditative," she said. "I

just kind of get lost in the colors."

The colorful characters and scenes cost anywhere from $55 to $200,

depending on store size, and unfortunately, McKibben is already

booked for this year. Occasionally, she's also painted residents' windows for parties.

McKibben started painting windows when her father,

John McKibben, owned Mount Si Cleaners in North Bend, now Mount Si

Dry Cleaners. Her grandfather was the first family member to live in the

Valley and he owned a laundry business here. Her mother, MaryLou, and

brother, David, still live in North Bend, but McKibben now lives in Tacoma.

She has painted storefronts since 1976.

Though she once did 30 paintings per winter holiday season,

McKibben now does only 12, spread out between North Bend, Tacoma and Seattle.

The multi-talented artist uses her remaining time to focus on other

creative pursuits.

"I'm learning to play the harp, so that takes up my time," she said,

adding that she hopes to soon play for hospice patients.

McKibben's artistic repertoire also includes quilting and making wall

finishes, such as faux marble. Watercolor painting is another art form she's

currently learning.

"I've been artistic and creative forever. If I want to know how to

do something, I get a book and learn how to do it. Then I move on to

something else," she explained.

At the end of the season, when the paintings are washed off and her

art disappears, McKibben is still pleased with her work and the joy it

brought to passers-by.

"They're not totally destroyed. I take pictures of them, so they still

exist," she said.

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