I am happy to present our newest Artist Spotlight – Joanna Zeller Quentin of Moose Pants Studios. Joanna paints with skill of anatomy, grace of movement and an energy which clearly expresses the noble horse. While her color palate sometimes defies the natural world, the power and personality of each horse is dramatically present in each work. I love her paintings and am pleased to feature her in this week’s blog. Joanna’s work has been featured by HITS Thermal on three covers and by COTH. I do not doubt you’ll be seeing her art in many other places in the future.
What is your favorite medium and why?
My background is in illustration, which means I’m pretty comfortable with a wide variety of media, but these days I mostly find myself working in oils, gouache, watercolor, and scratchboard. I love oil paints because they allow such a tactile sense of creating – laying down all these bright, saturated colors in thick buttery brushstrokes. It’s a lot of fun to really get into the paint and play with the surface of it. Oils encourage me to work loosely and quickly, which seems to naturally suit my painting style. Scratchboard is my other favorite medium, and it’s the complete opposite of oil painting. Scratchboard is very controlled, very detail oriented, and very zen-like for me. (Plus, it’s all done with knives, so I get to feel like I’m living dangerously and all that…) Oil painting is work, while scratchboard often is relaxation. But really, whatever my client wants is the medium I’m most happy to work in at any given moment.
Do you prefer working small or large more?
Once again, it depends on if the customer has a specific idea or size in mind. Because I work in a small studio, most of my personal painting work is in the 14 x 18 to 22 x 28 range. I also find these sizes seem to frame easily and ship inexpensively, and that’s important when you send work all over the country for shows and galleries. I dream of having huge, massive canvases to paint on, but that’s coming in the future. Scratchboard is very labor intensive (relaxing, but still labor intensive) so most of those pieces are no bigger than 16 x 20.
How long have you been creating art professionally?
I received my degree in Illustration in 2000 from the Ringling School of Art and Design and was signed by a rep the same week, so I guess you could put that as my being my official “I’m an artist” date, but I was selling colored pencil horse portraits at the age of eleven.
How did you become an artist? What is your story?
I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I didn’t take to the math! I was always very drawn to horses and knew I wanted to work with them in some capacity, and I was constantly drawing as a child. (Although strangely, many of my early drawings were of birds. Ducks. A lot of ducks…) I continued drawing throughout school and was very influenced by traditional animation and book illustration. After receiving some encouragement from legendary Disney animator Glen Keane, I decided to pursue a career in illustration at Ringling.
How did the horse become one of your primary subject?
It seemed a natural outgrowth of my childhood fascination. I was drawing horses and writing stories about them as a little girl – long before I ever sat on a horse – and thankfully never really stopped. My artwork in college became very wildlife focused so there were a lot of birds and other creatures in the mix, but I always came back to horses.
How do you describe the style of your artwork? Has your style evolved much over your career?
I always wanted to paint hyper-realism! But no matter how much I pushed and studied, it never came very naturally to me. Through a lifelong study of art history, I gravitated to the Post – Impressionists/Fauves and became absolutely seduced by they way they handled color and paint. My style naturally evolved along those lines. I’m also incredibly drawn to Art Nouveau and the incredible naturalist scientific drawings of John James Audubon and his contemporaries.
How do you get inspired? What is your creative process?
I work only from my own photographs, so I’ll often go to horse shows and shoot hundreds of pictures. Then I sort through images for ones that evoke an emotional response in me. These are usually the basis for paintings. Since I incorporate a lot of color and line work into my paintings, I don’t work directly from the photo, unless it’s a commission of a specific horse. I’d love to say my creative process is a pleasure and a joy to work through, but it isn’t! There’s usually a fight somewhere along the way, where a shape isn’t looking right or a color isn’t popping the way I want. Usually I just work at it in sheer desperation until there’s a mad breakthrough, and then it’s done! Sometimes I cry first.
What’s your history with horses?
Even though I started riding equitation and hunters in middle school, I became a first time horse owner a few years ago with the acquisition of Baby B Free, aka Frankie, an off the track Thoroughbred. He was not a successful racehorse but thankfully found his calling as a fantastic, careful, scopey jumper. He’s huge and gorgeous and quite a character, and I love him very much. We currently do jumpers and lower level dressage. (Sometimes we move into Spanish Riding School “airs above the ground” territory, but that’s usually only when the dragon hiding behind the trash can launches a surprise attack. Or there’s a rock, or a bird, or a stick, or something out of place. Frankie is big on self-preservation. But I wouldn’t trade him for the world).
Tell us a little bit about the most important horses in your life.
Well, Frankers, for one, because he’s given me the gift of board bills, vet bills, farrier bills, emergency bills, feed bills… you get the picture. I’ve been fortunate to ride a lot of really nice horses, some of whom have gone on to (or come from) upper level careers, and it’s always such a privilege to learn from them, because each one will teach you something new. Another horse that sticks out in my mind is Beauregard (Beau), an ancient Cleveland Bay from the Naperville, Illinois barn where I learned to ride. He was your typical school horse – slow, patient, slow, kind, slow…did I mention slow? But he taught legions of kids to ride, and he because “my” horse to look after. I spent many hours grooming, bathing, braiding, feeding, and caring for that horse, and I think of him often.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I think the greatest complement I can receive is when an equestrian buys my work. Horse people KNOW – we know if something depicted in a piece of artwork isn’t right. We spend so much time with these animals, in and out of the saddle, that we know every last detail of anatomy, physiology, tack, body language, all of it. Depicting the horse accurately and yet creatively is so important, and that’s one thing I really strive to convey in my art.
My artistic goal now is to move beyond simply doing a “horse painting”, and instead create a dynamic piece of artwork that happens to have a horse in it. As a hunter/ jumper rider, I know there’s so much emotion and energy that goes into those equestrian activities, and that’s what I really want to capture. I want people to feel the excitement of a Grand Prix jump off or the razor sharp concentration of a dressage test, or the rolling constant fluidity of a hunter round, and I want to convey that through the painting, as opposed to just painting a picture of a horse jumping over a fence. If I can capture the energy, boldness, and movement of the equine athlete behind the artwork, and still have it be accurate and correct, then I feel maybe I’ve created a successful piece.