Karen LaValley sees central Ohio as an area surrounded by art.

Karen LaValley sees central Ohio as an area surrounded by art.

The local artist, who specializes in outdoor, or plein air, painting, finds inspiration in the mudflats that line Old 3C Highway near Galena, at Hoover Reservoir and in the streets of Uptown Westerville.

"There's so much to see just right here in your own back yard," LaValley said.

About 20 of LaValley's works will be on display through Feb. 25 at the Ohio State University Faculty Club, 181 S. Oval Drive in Columbus.

A formal opening of LaValley's exhibit, titled "People and Places: The Garden of My Life," will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11.

Raised in Springfield, LaValley is a longtime artist. As a child she was encouraged in all artistic pursuits, from dancing at the studio owned by her father to drawing, painting and writing poetry.

"I grew up dancing all the time, and my family is very arty," LaValley said. "All of my cousins and uncles are arty. "I was always drawing."

LaValley earned her bachelor of fine arts degree from Ohio State. She's worked at different times at a law firm in downtown Columbus, as a substitute teacher and as a waitress, but she now focuses on her art full time.

She took to plein air painting about 15 years ago, after friends took her to paint at the old train depot in Canal Winchester.

"I just thought it was so much fun to just see something on site," LaValley said.

Most of her painting is now done out of doors, where LaValley said she loves the challenge of focusing on a single subject in a complicated environment, working quickly to beat changing light and finding subjects that aren't neatly ordered or in perfect condition.

"That's what makes it fun: the unexpected," LaValley said. "Everything isn't successful when you're out there and you have to make all these decisions. It doesn't always come out good. You have to go out a lot."

Although she began her career working with watercolors, she took to oils after a friend reintroduced her to them.

"I did oils when I was much younger, and I had forgotten what it was like," LaValley said. "I was hooked.

"For me, it's just a meatier medium, where you can really get into it and layer it and make it thick. Watercolor is delicate and thin," she said.

"I have more fun with it. I can be more creative with the oils. ... It seems a little more permanent and longer lasting."

LaValley said her favorite subjects include the Galena mudflats and the flowers she grows in the garden behind her Westerville home.

"I grew a garden behind my house just so I can have flowers to paint," LaValley said.

"I used to ask people all the time: Can I come and paint your garden?"

In addition to the exhibit at OSU's Faculty Club, LaValley's works can be seen throughout central Ohio.

Her work has been featured in several exhibits and is part of the permanent collection by local artists at the Columbus Hilton.

She will be one of the artists featured at this year's Art at the Arnold during the 2013 Arnold Sports Festival.

For more information about LaValley, or her exhibit, visit ohio-statefacultyclub.com.