Artist Spotlight: Karen McLain’s ‘Portraits of Freedom’

An Arizona artist goes into the wild to capture the beauty of American mustangs.

Karen explains, “When painting a human model, an artist can pose them. When painting a domestic horse from life, we can tie them to a hitching rail or hire a wrangler to keep them square. There are no such constraints when painting wild horses. It is some of that lack of constraint that is attractive to me. Painting wild horses from life is challenging, yet the vitality of living in the moment with these horses is a very free feeling. The field studies, and photographs are the foundation for larger studio paintings.”

Although Karen has always been an artist and nature enthusiast–her earliest memories are of drawing and being outdoors–her latest muse is a fairly recent development.

“I first saw wild horses in Utah in 2009,” she says. “In 2010 I visited the Spring Creek herd near Cortez, Colorado, and in 2011 I visited the Sand Wash Basin herd. Then I visited three herd areas this summer. I discovered the Salt River Wild Horses in May 2010 and was thrilled. I spent a considerable amount of time learning their patterns and taking photos. Then I carried a small sketch book and did very small ink sketches and took notes about their behavior. I eventually made a light weight paint box that I carry in a Camelpak.”

She now carries a video camera with her as well and posts videos on YouTube of the artistic journey from watching the horses to rendering them in paint. Here’s one from a month-long solo painting trip at the Sand Wash Basin in Colorado. “While camping out in the herd areas where the wild horses live, I was able to observe and learn from them. This was also an opportunity to paint them from life, as in this time lapse video,” she says. “As wild horses arrive at the waterhole, I get ready to set up and paint. ‘Benson’ brings his band in, and after they settle my painting process begins.

Check it out:

[Karen McLain]

Another spectacular video…

…that resulted in this painting:


Karen’s videos, which range from footage of bachelors sparring to stallions protecting their families, can be viewed on YouTube here. Visit the artist’s website to learn more about Karen’s work, order prints or contact Karen about commissions. You can also check out her blog here.

Go Riding.


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