Karon's Killian's design inspiration flows from a wide variety
of sources. She explains, "I draw on my country background
a lot. I have always loved houses and barns. I love animals,
but have found that the constraints of my boxes have squelched
a certain amount of realism along those lines. My respect for
animals does not allow me to be cutesy with them. I just can't
do a blue hippo with a pink bow."
By the Sea
Karon is a country gal at heart, born and raised in western
New York State. She describes her early life, "We lived
next door to my beloved grandfather and his farm, which probably
explains my love of anything farm or country related. By we,
I mean my mother, who I considered to be an artist, and my father,
who was an engineer and built our home from the ground up. My
sister, Rhea, who I resented dreadfully when she took my 'only
child' status from me some 7 years after my birth, and my brother,
who lucked out because I had already taken it all out on my sister.
I kid about my sister, but feel that I can since we are now best
friends. You will always see her by my side at every trade show
or appearance I make. Next to my husband she is my biggest fan."
Karon's childhood interests were mainly quiet, self-entertainment,
"Being a country kid without playmates, I can now appreciate
how much I probably bugged my mom to entertain me. What I most
remember was to 'go out and pretend the cornfield is your audience
and sing; go out to the sandbox and engineer a sandcastle; go
pretend you are an archeologist and look for arrowheads; take
your skates to the pond and pretend you are practicing for the
Olympics." During inclement weather, she was exhorted to
go to her bedroom and draw, color, paint, read a book, write
a book, do homework, take a nap, make Christmas decorations.
"Wow," Karon now exclaims, "I really must have
been a pest!" Pest? Maybe, but more likely just an extraordinarily
curious, talented and imaginative child.
Favorite subjects in school were art, grammar, reading, math,
drafting and, since she was truly a tomboy at heart, gym. As
a student at the State University College at Buffalo, she loved
and excelled at her art classes. Karon discovered that she IS
an artist, adding, "I now understand that being an artist
does not depend solely on pastels, watercolors, charcoals, oils,
acrylics or any other medium so closely related to the conventional
term 'artist.'" After completing college, Karon found employment,
as close to artistic as a small town could offer, as a draftsman
but states, "I can tell you that as the only woman in a
room filled with 20 draftsmen who looked at any occasion as a
reason for lighting up a cigar, this century would have provided
a better work environment."
While thus employed Karon met her future husband, David. He
was in sales at Lapp Insulator. After breaking off a prior marriage
engagement, there sprung up a contest between her male colleagues
to fix her up with their brothers, cousins, best friends and
every other single man in the whole company except David! Then,
at one fateful Christmas party, one of them must have still been
sober enough to mention to David that I was free to date. The
next night David asked her out. Karon continues, "We were
engaged on my birthday, two and a half months later and married
at the end of July. Each and every man in the drafting room took
credit for the nuptials!"
Happily Ever After
David wasted little time in introducing his bride to his favorite
place on the face of the earth: a small lake in northern Wisconsin.
Karon reminisces, "Our first trip there was after the honeymoon.
We left Friday and drove through Canada to Bay City, MI, where
we spent the night. The next day, upon arriving at the bridge
at Mackinaw, David said, 'It won't be long now!' I immediately
refreshed my lipstick. Some nine hours later we were pulling
into this lane that David referred to as 'the road to the cabin.'
Okay, I'm a country girl. I KNOW what a road is and that wasn't
one! To make a long story short, I didn't like the privy; I hated
the bugs and although I loved woods, this was a forest! The only
place to take a bath was in the lake, which at best got up to
70 degrees during a 'warm spell.' But eventually I grew to love
this place, as much, if not more so, than David."
Karon and David have lived in and traveled to many different
places. She adored time they spent in Oregon. Then they moved
to downtown Minneapolis, where they both resided and worked on
the skyway, earning the moniker "Skyway Rats." They
were now a mere four hours away from their favorite place and
during the warm months made the journey there most weekends.
Deciding that it was silly to only enjoy the lake during the
summer, they built a winterized cabin. After that, it was the
only place Karon wanted to be. They decided to move there for
a year. Karen recounts, "That year we burned 11 cords of
wood; electricity was on demand, which meant if the generator
was running we had electricity. That first year we got 150 inches
of snow. The road was plowed up to our driveway but by spring
our car could barely make it through this snow tunnel."
Polar Ice Box
After the year was up, they decided they wanted power on an
ongoing basis so they installed banks of batteries and inverters.
After that, the sky was the limit! She states. "I could
fix our evening meal using a light bulb. We had a forced air
furnace installed and enjoyed fires in the fireplace for the
ambience. But we did live frugally." Enveloped by Mother
Nature proved to be a wonderful and satisfying experience. Their
closest neighbor is still 3 miles of forest and dirt roads away
and they are still the only intrepid residents on the lake year
round. "But sadly", Karon bemoans, "Civilization
is encroaching. The highway department put a stop sign at the
pine stump at our closest crossroads."
Three college courses helped hone Karon's designing skills,
"One was in black and white photography. If the design looks
good in black and white, then it's a good design. You can muck
it up with color, so you need to know color theory, another class.
The next class was called simple design. With the picture as
your source, you would draw the object, person or whatever in
one continuous line. Since you were only given a minute or two,
your eye was trained to pick out the most important line to convey
a message." Karen loves the endless potential for variety
in designing. She relishes the freedom to experiment and try
novel approaches. She states, "I get to go to a store with
my mind wide open to any possibility and let the products lead
me in any direction they will."
In the design, Raindrops, which debuted at the TNNA
show in January and the Nashville show in February, Karon decided
that bone rings would be fun to incorporate into the design.
Not knowing if many cross-stitchers know how to crochet, she
had to devise some pretty detailed graphics. She was thrilled
when the design sold as well as the others, though states, "I
am also equally sure that many of my ideas wouldn't have. People
are willing to go just so far!"
Prior to needlework design, Karon had applied herself working
in leaded glass for about 12 years. While she was creating pieces
for consignment, she realized that it was most lucrative if the
piece contained no more than thirty pieces of glass and was about
a square foot. It was both a challenge and fun to create a good
design within those parameters. During this time, there had been
a huge resurgence in leaded glass. She states, "I was very
pleased to feel that I 'made it,' since my 'style' was becoming
While in Minneapolis, Karon worked at a brokerage firm. This
job provided her with the opportunity to learn about computers.
Soon, a computer was installed at home and she was able to play
with the various "paint" programs, designing solely
for her own pleasure. Then one Christmas, Rhea gave her a knit
top she had embellished with cross-stitch. Karon and Rhea headed
out to a needlework shop together, "We must have spent hours
there! But in poking around I found perforated paper. It looked
like fun so I bought it and some floss. Rhea taught me how to
cross-stitch. When I had stitched as a little girl tit was on
pre-printed pillowslips and dishtowels."
Soon Karon was designing in earnest. The paint program she
was using was not very sophisticated. She decided that each pixel
would represent a stitch. When she set up the grid, it was pretty
much limited to 50 pixels (or stitches) wide by 35 pixels (or
stitches) high. Working within these parameters stimulated her
as had working within specific boundaries in leaded glasswork.
She began by designing and stitching on perforated paper. First
she had in mind to try some seasonal designs, then sew them into
a cube. That way she could just turn it around when she wanted
a new view. While pondering over it one night she thought, "Why
would I want to make a cube when I could make a box?"
Scores of people encouraged Karon to market her designs, advice
she ignored for many years. Finally she had heard it enough times
that she went for it. That was genesis of her career as a professional
designer. She continues, "My, that sounds easy, doesn't
it? It was anything but! I spent 2 years working on different
ways of making the boxes and all the accompanying instructions.
I had to find a program for charting and finally settled for
a drafting program. That was a pretty steep learning curve since
the last time I had done any drafting was at a table with pencil
and paper. It took me a year just to get my trademark. And by
the time I was ready to go to market, my computer crashed!"
For designs in which Karon uses animals as her motifs, she
creates a story around each one. For instance, the box top of Greener Grass has several different colors of sheep shown
standing in an over-grazed field. Around the sides of the box
is a fence keeping them from the few blades of really green grass
on the other side. On the bottom of the box is a black sheep
that has made it into the 'greener grass.' In Out Foxed,
the fox really wants the chickens. But the clever little fellow
has been out foxed by the chicken wire keeping him away from
the chickens around the outside edge of the box and the hen house
on the bottom of the box."
Karon adores perusing children's books for design ideas. Songs
paint a picture in her mind's eye. Mother Nature remains Karon's
most consistent resource for color and shape. She adds, "I
love colors. I like bright and bold like Magic Carpet,
and soft and pastel, as well. Probably if my 'style' is known
for anything it would be for the use of color. I don't hesitate
using a different color for just one stitch if it makes the design
better. I also love to mix different colored threads together
to achieve the effect that I want. A good example is Maple
Leaf. I like to blend the colors. You can get a lot more
depth to a picture with the blending. Good examples are Checkered
Fields, Sunrise Acres or La Hacienda."
What definitely DOES NOT inspire Karon are fads and trends. She
quips, "I will run away from it as fast as possible. But
if I have a design in my head and it is sufficiently composed,
I will not suppress it because it might be a part of a trend."
Karon doesn't recall when she discovered the Caron Collection,
probably at one of her first tradeshows, "I remember walking
the show after hours. My sister and I happened upon the Caron
booth and spent a good hour just looking at all the threads and
colors. We returned with paper and pencil, so I could write down
all the colors I liked. It was a very long list! I couldn't wait
to get home and start working again now that I had found those
Some of Karon's own favorite boxes use the Caron Collection: Greener Grass, La Hacienda, Garden Shed and Raindrops. "As a matter of fact," says Karon,
"I picked out several combinations of Impressions/Wildflowers
for Raindrops which I still intend to do. I love the quality
and texture of the threads. With my boxes the light is bouncing
off a 3-dimensional object. How the light works on, off and with
the threads is very important to my designs. I love the variegated
threads because the color combinations are just so right. Wildflowers
and Impressions are at the top of my list. I also I love stitching
with these threads as they always feel wonderful in that there
is never an over-dyed feel to them. The Impressions line is so
soft and luxurious. If you have never stitched with it, treat
Karon loves meeting other stitchers and has demonstrated at
a number of C.A.T.S. shows. She adds, "It's always rewarding
to see someone walking away with one of my designs and knowing
that I will have played a small part in their stitching pleasure."
She enormously enjoys meeting other designers, many of whom have
become friends. Some of the greatest compliments she has received
have come from fellow designers. She relates, "At a recent
tradeshow I had a teacher/designer come to my booth. She had
found my boxes and said that they made the best traveling project
and then pulled La Hacienda out of her purse! Shop owners
are also fun to meet. Their enthusiasm is wonderful." Then
there are those people whom she has never met, but who have discovered
her website. She exclaims, "I have never had so many compliments
in my life! Even if they never buy a thing from me, they will
take the time to let me know how much they like the designs or
the website. Stitchers are just the nicest people!"
Karon also discovered the challenge and stimulation of entering
competitions. In 2001, Main Street, won the Honorable
Mention in the ANG National Seminar Exhibit in the professional
category. She had entered a piece just to familiarize more stitchers
with her work. It was both a shock and a thrill to receive a
ribbon. Last year at the same competition, Garden Shed, won the Small Masterpiece Award. Every year now she ponders what
to enter in the next competition. Each year Whiskey Creek has
two trunk shows that travel around the United States. Each shop
gets the stitched samples for about a month before sending it
on to the next shop. She has also had the honor of being featured
in both Just CrossStitch and the Cross
Karon's overall personal artistic style is rooted in realism.
Even though she hates anything cutesy, she does value simplicity.
Some pieces have a primitive, almost naïf look. Many contain
whimsical interpretations, especially of nature's creatures.
Others, like Sunrise Acres, reflect an almost impressionistic
painterly quality. Curiosity, though representational,
has a soft look, almost bordering on the abstract. Karon, however,
is not limited to realistic designs and has created some geometric
patterns, like Magic Carpet. In Raindrops, the
stitching is layered and 3-dimensional, which gives it a sculptural
look. She retorts, "I guess I am conflicted. My personal
style is conflicted!" We would rather venture to say that
Karon's style is extremely versatile, multi-faceted and very
Over time Karon's style continues to evolve especially in
becoming much more emboldened in her use of color. Even in her
realistic designs, colors may be used to convey an emotion or
highlight some other aspect about the subject portrayed. Regardless
of the style, her designs always reflect her own vision, have
an innate elegance and exude a quiet self-confidence. Karon stresses
that her upbringing and experiences are intimately related and
could not possibly be divorced from her work. She insists, "It's
a sum total of who I am. And who I am is what I design. If I
try to design for others it just doesn't sell."
For more information or to order Whiskey Creek Ink designs, contact:
Karon K. Killian
Whiskey Creek Ink
RR 1 Box 93
Marengo, WI 54855
E mail: email@example.com