Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

Archive for June 7, 2009

Tack n’ Talk Real Rider Story: Meet Karen McLain

By Larissa Cox

Today I had the pleasure of getting to know more about rider and artist, Karen McLain. With her use of vibrant color and emotional connection to her subject matter, Karen infuses life and character into her portraits.

Here is Karen’s story:karen mclain 1

What is your background with horses and riding?

I lived in rural Arizona during my early childhood, and always loved horses, but didn’t get my own until I was an adult. I worked at the place I boarded my first horse, giving Trail Rides and taking care of their herd. They had about 70 horses, and I learned an amazing amount from them. During that time I wrote and illustrated a kid’s story, “Liz the Hairy Horse”, a heart warming tale about three misfits and the bond they have for each other. Currently, I have my trail horse and a Percheron. It seems there is an endless amount they have to teach me, and I am grateful for having them in my life.

Which evolved first: your passion for horses or art? How do they help each other grow?

My earliest memories are of drawing. I spent many hours painting with my Grandmother when she would visit during the summer months. Through these years, horses lived in my imagination, while I focused on my art. When I was in High School my parents took me to the Phoenix Art Museum to the Cowboy Artist of America exhibit. Something inside really clicked, because I saw how wonderfully the love of art and horses was combined.

Today, I am inspired by making the connection between horsemanship and painting. There are many principles that are similar-reflective of each other. (Just like horses are reflective of where we are each time we approach them). Principles like harmony, balance, timing, feel, release, and rhythm. Where some artist relate to music as an inspiration, I relate to horses, and the powerful bond we have with them, and what they have to teach us. That bond touches our Soul in unique ways, and that is part of what I try to capture in my paintings.

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How are you able to capture so much life in your artwork?

Last year, I began painting landscapes, en Plein air. (Plein air is a French word, meaning to paint from life).  I was amazed and challenged. There was so much more to experience and see when painting on location. The inspiration and emotional response was so much more intense that it wasn’t long before I began painting horses from life.  When painting horses from life, I can really see the color transitions in their coats, as well as the warm and cool effects of light and shadow.  I also have the added experience of relating to the horse in person, without the filter of a camera between us. Although I always photograph the horse, it is the experience I have that has impact on my painting. I hold those experiences in my heart and bring them to the next painting, in this way I am able to add life to each horse I paint.

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The most important factor for me is to know “Who” I am painting. When I receive a commission, I ask the person to send a number of photographs of the horse and to tell me about the horses’ personality. These antidotes about the horse and owner give me valuable insight while painting. It helps add life to a horse I may never get to meet, and to strongly depict that powerful bond between horse and owner.

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During the planning stages of a painting, I feel so excited. I can best describe it as the level of anticipation we experience when we get a horse. (Or have been away from our own horse and are going to see them). I can’t wait to see “who” this is!  The horses I paint are more than Bays, Buckskins, Palominos or Grays, they are living, and that is the feel I put into every painting.

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Are there any artists you draw inspiration from?

I like Carl Borg’s work, as well as Robert Bateman, Richard Schmid and Jim Wilcox. I can spend endless hours looking at any artist who not only depicts the horse well, but who really makes a painting come alive.

Can you tell us any future plans you may have for your art and your riding?

My Percheron, Comanche, turned five in May, and I want to continue training and working with him to become a good trail horse as well as learn to drive. My current trail horse, Adobe, is currently undergoing treatment for a sarcoid. I am still able to ride him and hope that he will enjoy a complete recovery.

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As far as painting goes, I want to paint as many beautiful horses as I can. They are all beautiful to me; they have a wonderful spirit that I connect with in every painting. I would also like to be available to travel and paint horses on location. This includes commissions as well as partnering with organizations that raise funds to help horses live a quality of life that includes dignity and fulfilling relationships with the people who are their caretakers. One of the most wonderful things that have happened as a result of painting is that people who have commissioned paintings have become friends. This is truly a rich a rewarding life!

To find out more about Karen, her painting, and her horses, follow her on twitter, read her blog, or browse through her website.

Happy Riding!