Monday, January 28, 2013

What Inspires?

I received an email request from a young student of art named Rosie today, and my reply became something I thought I'd like to share. Here's her email to me, and my reply:

Hello, I am year 11 student at the Kings Academy, and I am currently studying gcse art there and the topic I'm doing is based on close ups. When I came across some of your work it inspired me to base my work on animals. I would like it if you found the time to help me, my question to you is, what inspired you? Why did you choose to base your work on what you did? Thank you for your time, I really appreciate you took your time to read this.

Hi Rosie,

I'm glad you found my work inspiring!

I consider myself one of the lucky people who can find inspiration in almost anything. In fact I frequently wish I could live several lives just to have enough time to paint everything I've ever thought about painting. My current and recent subject matter evolved as a result of a lot of things, but mostly from some specific advice of an experienced artist mentor, and a lucky client purchase.

The artist Sara Eyestone gives the advice in a 'business of art' workshop: to work in a series. She says pick a subject/genre and a consistent dimensional size (ie: 2/3 ratio rectangle, or a square, etc) and create at least 20 paintings in this similar theme. This way, when you have an exhibit, it will all look great hung in the same room of a gallery, or at an art fair. And since the dimensions are the same, you can choose the best 12 and print a calendar.

Well, I hadn't yet really chosen my subject for a series when a large (24x24) longhorn painting sold to a client at an art fair. I told him about another cow painting the same size that I had at a gallery in a nearby town. He went to see it that same weekend, and bought it. (These were the first cow paintings I had ever done!)

Well, then I thought, "I'll have to paint more cows!" And I've been painting cows for the past 3 years or more. Being a practical sort of business-person as well as an artist, I do find that my subject matter is driven by what sells. But I do believe that choosing a specific subject or genre and creating a unified body of work creates an appeal with clients, looks much better at shows and fairs, and can also indicate a seriousness of purpose as a dedicated artist that more serious collectors will appreciate.

I haven't limited my subjects to just animals; I also do portraits and landscapes. I do like to work in series whenever I can, especially when working small (you can see a lot of my 'mini-series' of small paintings throughout by blog posts of the past 2 years) I've done seagulls, sunsets, ranch roads, Renaissance portraits, small watercolor road sketches, etc... and of course, the 5x7 cows and other animals - over 200 now!

I believe what specifically led to the small cow 'portraits' was the continued sales of cow paintings, and the knowledge that smaller, less expensive paintings are what sell better. I had first tried a couple of 6x8 cow paintings, but to work that small with the entire body didn't appeal to me, so, being a portrait artist by nature, I settled in to doing some 4x6's of just the 'portrait' area of the cow - head and chest. These migrated to 5x7's and stuck! At some art fairs I would paint new ones at my easel to pass the time, and would sell them almost before they were finished! Nothing like instant sales to inspire more paintings!

A funny thing happens when you commit to one subject for such a length of time and through so many paintings. What began as a business decision because of good sales, became slowly over time a real fascination with the cow. I've learned more about cows (like what breeds are what) since I've been painting them than I ever knew before. And there's something about them, their curiosity, their various personalities (Longhorns will ignore you; large herds of Brahmans are skittish; small mixed herds are the best because they're friendly and curious.) And since I take all my own reference photos, my experience of 'being there' watching, observing and learning has been able to add something to my experience of painting them over these years.

Well, maybe this is more than you needed, but I hope it helps! Good luck with your art!



  1. Wonderful answer... exactly right, and I am sure it will help Rosie in her work and life!
    Good job!

    1. I learned a lot about " the business of art " just by reading your answer to Rosie. I'm just getting back into selling my artwork again and "I definitely feel inspired as I know Rosie is! I'm with you Rita, I need at least three lives to paint! Lol

  2. Rita, this is a wonderful, engaging and inspiring entry. It tells so much about the most dynamic approach to professionalism, as well as the delight in subjects with which we really connect. I can also relate to the need for several lives. I felt that way as a young woman, but a lot can still fill the years I have left.

    1. Thank you Hedda! I do enjoy writing when I have the time.... ;)

  3. Wow I just found your site and I'm inspired by so many of your subjects because they are mine also. I have been taking photos and collecting interesting art of all bovines. I'm fascinated by their faces and beauty. I just started taking art classes where we are using pastels. They are so forgiving and yet so sensual that it clearly wants me to continue and learn more.
    I thought that you produced products phone cases with your cow art??? Now I can't find them on your site. Can you clarify that. Love all your beautiful work. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions behind your art


    1. Thanks Arleen, I have several images on, where the phone cases and other merchandise can be ordered. :)


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