An Artist's Life

When I am asked how I became a painter of animals, I say that it was completely inevitable, really. Take one very small animal-crazy highly imaginative girl and hand her a copy of Western Horseman and give her some paper and a pencil. Throw in some God-given natural ability. At five, I had ridden a horse and was drawing horses and had a world of imaginary horse companions in my head. We lived on Oahu (pre-statehood) which could be driven all the way around in three hours, and my horses ran alongside the car the whole way. That was how I lived my life for years, in that fantasy. All I had in my head were those horses, my dog Sandy, Kane the dog across the street, and every other dog I laid eyes on, catching and releasing lizards ( I adore them) and the visual feast of island wildlife and the floating mist landscape of the emerald Pali. My world was make-believe, rather easy in such an environment. Once I was telling my mom an elaborate story involving my horses, and she said: "We both know that isn't true, don't we."  But nothing deterred me from the animal stories in my head.


Even so young, I looked at Marguerite Henry's Album of Horses illustrated by Wesley Dennis and thought, " I could do this." The story in there about the Sumi ink horse paintings that came to life at night, was exactly in line with my conceptions.  Fortunately, my mom was a reader and she helped me with my horse and dog stories obsession. 


 Again at age five, the first movie I ever saw was a Japanese art film in black and white, called "White Mane". It started my obsession with white horses, so, of course, a white one ran alongside our car, too.  And then my next, "Thunderhead", which began my love affair with wild horses!  I was so moved by what I was seeing that I jumped up and stood on the theater seat and whinnied at the top of my lungs! I could not contain myself, it never even occurred to me, much to the total mortification of my mother and sister as everyone in the theater howled with laughter.


When we came back to the mainland and I was thrown into the public school system,  where I was rudely considered a "foreigner". I was isolated. I withdrew, to say the least. I had not even had to wear shoes to school, on the islands. I guess I really was the little heathen the other kids suspected I was.


Being shunned by the other kids pushed me even farther into my imagination, and my escape was animals and art. I rescued so many dogs I lost count, they came to me as though they came through a vortex to where I lived. (This vortex has followed me everywhere).  My sister Jan (I thought she was fascinating and mysterious) was enough older than me for us to not have a lot of involvement with each other. Animals were my life. When I was not daydreaming about horses, I was pretending to be one myself, setting up jumps in the yard and cantering over them magnificently, or making my dog Sandy, my soul-sister,  be a horse, running a race around the hedge. My Breyer horses were my herd. Rain and mud puddles were my opportunity to pretend to be a horse in a storm. I'm sure I looked ridiculous, walking in the way that made the cadence of hoofbeats just right. There is a whole culture of adolescent girls who as close to being horses as any human could ever be, and I was one of them.  And I admit it... to this day... I still spook and snort. If no one can see me. And sometimes to entertain myself I still make soft noises in time to the four-beat cadence of a gaited horses feet, when I walk. 


When I got out of school my father really wanted me to learn something else to do to make a living. Being an artist is not very practical.  I knew that. I went to business school for him.  But my preference was to talk to my uncle T.C. Westall about his life as an artist. He had been an instructor at Herron Art Institute. He was an extremely fine painter, equal to any of the very finest landscape and portrait artists of our time. After the war, he went to work for GM and raised a family and never got to devote his time to his true calling. I was young, but I recognized his frustration, and lack of fulfillment. It was a bitter pill. He actually had been blessed with a true and significant talent that he'd had to put on a shelf. I didn't want that to happen to me. He would pull out one of his conte drawings of my Aunt Amo, and say... "Look at that bone structure."  He had a passion for the work.  He shared that expertise about bone structure with me. I so clearly remember our talks about dog anatomy. Oddly enough, we didn't draw together, though. But he would take my hand and made me feel the bumps, planes, and dips of his dog's skull.  It fascinated me and is one reason I have always been so mindful about correct anatomy in animal paintings. Because I admired his work so much, when I first began to paint professionally as an adult, I copied him and was a landscape painter, as well as a painter of animals.


I really did try formal art training, I audited both Otis and Woodward in Los Angeles, and attended PCC with it's highly respected Fine Art department, in preparation for transferring to what was then called Chouinard's. But unfortunately, I discovered that being ordered to draw or paint something by an instructor, completely removed from me any spark I needed to create anything at all. The wind went out of my sails, I was unhappy, and made the reckless decision to go off on my own. I learning through trial and error, and later, through some great mentorship I had from California impressionist Karl Albert.  Karl was my dear friend, and very significant in my life. He painted alongside Edgar Payne when they were young together. So, you see, I was in fine company. And I was thrilled to learn watercolor from Nita Engle, who had been an idol of mine throughout my life. 


Animal art is something I taught myself. I began to do many commissioned animal paintings, and I taught animal and landscape painting in private classes until my students were selling paintings and I had no time to paint, myself.


Due to the meticulous accuracy needed when doing commissions, my animal art is Representational Painting (Traditional Realism). Quite realistic art is what most people prefer when they are having their own animal painted. They want to look at that painting and see something so real of their animal that they swear they see it move, out of the corner of their eye. And it is what satisfies me in paintings of my own animals.


I began to place my traditional realism horse art in galleries, including Peppertree-Calabasas and The Esther Wells Collection in Laguna Beach.  When I was in The Black Hills of South Dakota, I had work, including one of a kind sculpture uniques, at Mc Gee Fine Art.


About 17 years ago I began showing my work in Sedona, first with Jordan Road Gallery, and then for many years now, with Goldenstein Art, which has exclusive representation of my larger equine oil paintings, which could be defined as 'Western Art'.


 It was an honor to have been selected by world famous horse photographer, Robert Vavra, to illustrate two of his horse books. Through Robert's influence in the world of literature, film and fine horses, my work was acquired by notables such as Vavra himself, William Shatner, Bo Derek, The Gainey and DuPont Families, James A. Michener, Elmer Bernstein and Barnaby Conrad. I have been in numerous formal art publications in one way or another over the years and in the Academy of Country Music Awards Book and did the cover art for a publication called Great Moments in the Theatre. One of my wildlife paintings is in the permanent collection of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History,  and I have had two solo shows. I have paintings in collections all over the world. 


But, while these things matter as credentials to an artist, they are not the things that move me the most.  I want to do art that means the world to someone. The love between a person and their animal can be life-changing, and I feel the power of such a connection. Because I, too, have such a bond with my animals. It is the depth of the devotion between people and animals that fascinates me most of all,  because it is utterly consuming for me personally. I recognize that one person and their rescued dog of questionable parentage, or scraggly hungry kitty, can be the ones who have a bond of epic proportions. And those have been some of my favorite subjects to paint.


 It has also been my pleasure to be in some wonderful equine art exhibits, the spectacular traveling exhibit "Le Cadeau du Cheval" aka  "The Horse Gift" (a huge mural made up of many small paintings including mine, and overall they created a large image). I seem to have a penchant for traveling invitationals, as I now have had art traveling with the Wild Horse and Burro advocacy exhibit "Facing the Wind" for some time. This exhibit is curated by Michael Golembeski of The Wind Dancer Foundation.


I was included in an editorial in Southwest Art's annual collector's issue. And I was quite pleased one year, to have a dog painting of mine juried into Art Show at the Dog Show, an AKC sponsored invitational exhibit, and to do AKC Breed specification art for Devon Hill.


.When I was a girl of twelve, and powerless to stop what was happening, I learned a very hard lesson about how dangerous this world is for horses. And for all God's creatures. My heart was eternally broken, and the knowledge of it has motivated me to be involved in their protection. I have a private sanctuary with a small herd and many rescued dogs and cats with special needs. And cockatoos and a parrot. Keeping animals safe is very important to me. For forty years, I have used my art to advocate for animals in any way that I can. All animals. I have a special affection for ducks and geese and guinea pigs.  You name it, I've probably known one and loved it. 


You would think that as I became an adult, my horse obsession would have changed in some way. On the surface, I suppose it has, due to requiring some practicality. But inside me? The magical world of horses still lives. When I was 45 years old I woke myself up from sleep by neighing loudly. As I awoke, hearing myself neigh, the neigh turned into laughing. I had an audience too. The truth is out about me and there is no escaping it.


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