I have seen Doreen Irwin’s work at a number of places over the years: Horse Expo, Draft Horse Classic, online, and at the Sacramento International Horse Show. I met her at the Sacramento International 2 years ago, but never managed to grab her card. Last fall I was happy to see her work again and this time was smart enough to grab a card. This Artist Spotlight has been a long time coming. I’m so happy to bring you the work of this very talented and prolific California artist. Please enjoy learning a little more about her and her artwork.
How did you become a artist and how long have you been doing it professionally?
I am self taught. I have always been interested in drawing and have been blessed with the ability to easily draw whatever I saw. I am also a musician. While I was studying for my music degree I answered an ad about doing commercial art work for a furniture store. I got the job at 18 years old and was a commercial artist for many years after that…drawing furniture, lamps, etc. for newspaper ads. I worked my way through music school doing professional art work, and I was already selling a few paintings of horses at that time.
What is your favorite medium to work with and do you prefer working large or small?
I have tried all mediums. Water color is very easy for me since I had so much practice in the commercial art world with pen and ink. However after doing many pieces in all mediums I enjoy oil the most…especially since it is best for painting horses. You can move the paint around to enhance/blend the shiny coat of a horse. Other mediums are possible…but more difficult in the end.
I can work small or large, but I prefer fairly large. Large pieces are always more dramatic and seem to appeal to more people. They definitely attract more attention.
How would you describe your style?
My style is very realistic. I can draw therefore I don’t enjoy painting/drawing any subject that doesn’t look/appear correct in proportion or colors. If my images are “incorrect,” I would not be happy with them or want to show them to anyone…because I can be correct. If I “stylize” any image I do have to work at it…intentionally use flamboyant colors and odd shapes. I can do it, but I don’t feel as comfortable with misshapen objects…especially horses. I think most horse people enjoy realistic horse images. I like to portray what I see correctly. I have that ability and that is what makes me feel good about my paintings.
What is your creative process?
I am always looking at photos that I take, other people take or potential photos that I can take of interesting subjects. If I see an image with beautiful/interesting lighting or an image that tells a story (as in Norman Rockwell paintings) I am very interested in creating a painting from that image. I also paint people, pets, scenery and buildings. If any photo looks like it could be a beautiful painting I keep it in mind, and eventually it could become a painting.
I always take my own photos, and if it is not mine, I make sure to get permission from the photographer. I rarely paint from live objects because they don’t hold still and/or the lighting changes very rapidly which makes it much more difficult.
How does your commission process work?
Many people want me to paint their person/horse/pet/building. I either photograph the subject or have them send photos. From the pictures I choose what I think would make a lovely painting with the approval of the person who is commissioning the piece. I let them know what size I think it should be according to the picture and the price according to the size. Most people give me a down payment and the rest of the money upon completion. I can take a credit card, and if I know them well I would take payments. I have never had a problem with payments.
How did the horse become your primary subject?
I got my first horse at 10 years of age. I have owned hundreds of horses throughout my life: buying, training, selling, trading, judging, breeding babies, giving lessons, showing, putting on horse shows, etc. I know horses very well so obviously they were always a primary subject with my drawings and paintings…even as a child.
What is your history with horses?
I got my first horse as a child because I practiced the piano every day for a year. My dad kept his word and bought me an old “plug.” I was inspired. I worked for and bought mares, raised babies, traded paintings for breeding fees, etc. I grew up riding Western – barrel racing and racing on tracks. I was a Rodeo Princess and Rodeo Queen. I trained my own horses and never received any lessons. When I was in my twenties I switched from Western to riding English and started jumping. I showed successfully, started giving lessons, became a judge and created my own ranch – Shandoni Ranch, which I have owned and operated since 1975. I raise warmblood babies for the show ring, train and sell them, put on horse shows at our ranch, and board horses.
As I previously mentioned I have owned so many of my own horses (and handled and brokered so many for other people) that I can’t possibly remember them all. Favorites: As a teenager, Lady Bug – super Barrel Racer. Unbeatable. I owned her till she passed. Charming Billy – super winning jumper. No whip/spurs and a heart of gold. Everyone wanted to buy him. I sold him to Barbara Worth, but it it broke my heart. Chesapeake – Great hunter. Unflappable and a total winner all of the time. Everyone wanted to buy her. I sold both of the latter because that’s what I do as a horse trainer. I will never forget them. I got Chesapeake back (a Black Beauty story). She will live at our ranch forever. She is a phenomenal broodmare, and I have 3 of her outstanding babies right now.
How can our readers purchase your work?
To purchase my work, people could look at my website and make selections from what is available. Paintings are pictured with sizes and prices. If they did not want to buy an original, they could also purchase a giclee (professional print) of any of my pieces. If someone were interested in a commissioned work, they could contact me, and we would discuss the details, payments, etc.