Not a whole lot of artists go from a career in engineering to becoming a full-time artist and gallery owner.

Bozeman artist Kara Tripp said she uses her math skills to get the proportions right on her expressive paintings of grain elevators, sheep and bison.

To keep her work loose and the colors raw, Tripp made another unusual decision — to give up the paint brush and use only a palette knife.

Tripp makes a return trip to this weekend’s Summerfair in Billings at Veterans Park where her paintings of Suffolk sheep were a big hit last year. She will demonstrate her painting technique during a live painting session at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Since last summer, Tripp has branched out to painting grain elevators and downtown Bozeman scenes, backyard chickens, Yellowstone’s bison, and scenes from Yellowstone Park, including a group of children watching Old Faithful erupt.

“Summerfair was the top of my list for art festivals this year,” Tripp said. “Last year was great. There were lots of buyers, and it was very well organized.”

More than 10,000 people from throughout the area come to Summerfair each year. There will be live entertainment, artist demonstrations, food vendors and children’s art activities.

Tripp made the decision to work as a freelance artist so she could spend more time with her twins, who were born in 2005. Sometimes they show up as subjects in her work, like in the crowd admiring Old Faithful.

An entrepreneur program she took through the Montana Arts Council in 2013 helped propel Tripp into opening her own gallery and expanding her market. At her gallery in Bozeman at the Emerson Cultural Center, visitors often stop in to watch her paint. That led to Tripp conducting workshops during the fall and winter.

Because she paints with oils and likes to stack on the color, her paintings usually take a couple of weeks to dry completely. She uses a large glass tabletop in her studio to mix colors, using only the primary colors and white.

“That’s the one thing I teach is graying down the colors. If you use something right out of the tube, the colors aren’t realistic,” Tripp said.

Tripp usually begins a work by roughly sketching the scene with red paint. It’s the only time she uses a brush and the sketch is always loose. She likes painting animals because of the challenge involved in capturing their personality.

It’s hard to see the eyes on Suffolk sheep because they are hidden in their black faces, but Tripp conveys their character through a tilt of the head or an angle of the body. She is drawn to painting what is around her, but making it bolder, yet still nostalgic.

From a distance, you might not see the smears of color applied with her palette knife because of the careful way Tripp mixes her paints to find the right shades.

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Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.