“Most days I?m out in an old pickup on the back roads taking pictures, looking and trying to scout out new places where I?ve found some pigs or roosters,” says Monte Vista, Colorado, artist Linda St. Clair. The result is a slew of animal paintings like Cowgirl.
St. Clair, who began painting full time after 10 years as an artist?s representative, spends her days observing the animals that inspire her paintings. Mostly domesticated animals?cows, chickens, pigs and, most recently, horses?find their way into her snapshots and onto her canvas. “When I was 18, I couldn?t wait to get away from that farm,” says St. Clair. “I lived in the city for many years, but when I started painting, this is the kind of thing that started emerging.” Despite her initial frustration with her subject matter, St. Clair decided not to resist her inspiration. Now she wouldn?t have it any other way. “I want people who look at my work to really see the animals. They all have such distinct personalities, and I don?t think you notice that if you just glance at them as you pass on the road.”
For St. Clair, who lives in a rural area of Colorado, finding subject matter isn?t a challenge. During her excursions to local farms, the animals usually come right up to her. “If you get out of the car they?ll actually come over to the fence,” St. Clair says. The subject for Cowgirl was no exception. “She was just so curious about what I was doing and why I was there. I loved her expression and the look in her eyes. When I went to paint her, she happened on the canvas very quickly.”
Working alla prima, St. Clair works quickly on all her pieces, finishing the major work in three to four hours. “Usually I?ll try to put in my darkest dark and my lightest light and that will give me a range of values to work within,” she says. “Then I work over the entire canvas and try not to get caught up in one little area I want to keep loose.” After her first session with a piece, St. Clair sets it aside and then for the next week she?ll go back to refine and soften edges. “I don?t like to rework major parts of my paintings. One of the things I feel is a strength in my work is the looseness and the spontaneous feeling, so I don?t want to jeopardize that.”
To capture the essence of the animals in her paintings, St. Clair uses little detail in the background. “It depends on what I?m doing, but at least half the time, I paint the animals close-up,” she says. “It?s more about the animal than the background. I want people to notice that the animals have characteristics very reminiscent of people. If you watch a mare with her foal, she?s very protective. If you see a rooster that?s really strutting, he?s very cocky and flamboyant.”
Painting six hours a day, St. Clair spends the time she?s not painting out studying her subjects or sifting through her ever-growing collection of photographs. And whether she?s sketching or photographing animals on a roadside, standing in front of an easel or poring over piles of pictures, St. Clair is more than happy to devote time to her art.
Even vacations are inevitably art-related as her husband is also a full-time painter. “We keep telling ourselves that we need to do something to get away from it for a while,” she says. “But every time we pack for a trip, here comes all the supplies. It?s not something you can separate in your life. It?s so much a part of who you are and what you think about.”
Loraine Crouch is assistant editor of The Artist’s Magazine.