Journaling plays a large role in Cathy Carey's completed paintings.
"I usually paint places that I travel to and I keep journals that help me develop my ideas for a series when I continue the painting at home," Carey said. "It gets me in the mood when I read my thoughts and entries that I had about the places."
Carey paints in a style she calls magic realism, and her works depict some of the most beautiful places on earth in the most vibrant colors imaginable, including Tuscany, Venice and Provence.
Her miniature egg tempera painting of Portofino, Italy, is now on view at Rancho Santa Fe Art Guild's "Holiday Reflections" exhibit through Jan. 3.
According to Carey, she'll sometimes visit a place with a theme in mind because she has a preconception of what that place is about, but at other times an entirely different feature of the place serves as the muse for her brush.
"When in Venice, I thought I'd be most fascinated by the buildings - the texture on the crumbling walls and the decorative surfaces on the architecture - but my series was about the reflections of those buildings on the water and the incredible reflected skies on the water," she said.
An accomplished painter with oils, watercolors, acrylics and pastels, Carey lets the location tell her what medium to use to depict it.
"I used pastels in Venice because the way the light was shimmering and reflecting on the buildings and reflecting back on the water," she said. "Pastels are also very transient like the dust, and that transient sensibility about it reminded me of Venice."
In Carey's mind, oils were the best medium to depict Tuscany, which for her represented the tradition of oil painting, the Renaissance and the many layers of history.
For desert places, she uses a different approach.
"Places like Santa Fe, New Mexico, have a sandy texture, so I use watercolors that have sediment in them," she said. "They are ground from natural pigments like lapis lazuli, malachite and Sedona earth."
Carey's paintings are all about color and each color is carefully chosen.
"Anybody can use bright colors, but that's not what makes my colors look the way they do," Carey said. "My colors look so intense because if I want a color to look brilliant, I put it next to a neutral color, or if I want a warm color to really show up, I'll put it next to a cool color."
Many of Carey's paintings feature houses.
To me the idea of houses is the idea of a sanctuary where you go where you feel safe," she said. "The house is usually in the middle of a beautiful garden and there are never people around. They're almost more like an emotional space than a physical space because my paintings are a mindscape of a place inside my world."
Involved in art since childhood, Carey never considered a job without an artistic aspect. By age 15, she started art classes at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., before she earned a BFA at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Carey moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to generate commercial ads for Circuit City's new stores. In 1989, she moved to Encinitas to be the art director for the "Coast Dispatch" where she joined the desktop publishing revolution and made enough contacts to become a self-employed graphic designer and illustrator. Carey continued painting throughout this period, and before long she began teaching painting at San Dieguito Adult School.
Based in Escondido, Carey's days are now filled with painting and teaching color theory classes in her studio. She is currently working on a new series that she started in Santa Fe.
On Dec. 6 and 7, Carey will also hold a free Art Studio & Garden Tour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at her home, 2048 Ridgecrest Place in southwest Escondido. Information: (760) 489-9109.
View her work at