By Shya Beth
Using oils, acrylics and color pencils, Julie Lawther lends her one-of-a-kind style to each of her paintings. While pursuing a realistic approach to each subject, she demonstrates the uncanny ability to forge a connection with each viewer in a way that is familiar and enchanting. That ability is key to her success and defines her story as not only an artist, but as a horsewoman.
As the familiar tale goes, this horse-crazy girl doodled and sketched animals from life and imagination, and that quickly became a lifelong passion that has touched horse owners and enthusiasts around the world. Born in 1970 in Conroe, Texas, Julie’s great-grandfather worked in the logging industry, and his last mount ended up being the first horse that Julie learned to ride on at her family ranch. Her aunt was also influential in her early years, taking her on rides and teaching her about the bond with horses.
“Once I was in school, I naturally gravitated to other horse-crazy girls,” Julie said. It was around junior high school time that Julie started to develop her knowledge of the competitive horse world around her, and started tagging along with friends to their barns.
Pursuit of Knowledge
From Tennessee Walkers and Saddlebreds to Welsh Ponies and Thoroughbreds, Julie rode and showed whatever was available at the time. “I loved jumping the most,” Julie reminisced. “I started catch riding at different barns, riding the difficult horses or ones not well suited to a lesson program.” Soon, all those difficult horses gave Julie enough experience to start training other riders and horses.
“For me, it has always been about staying in close proximity to horses and learning as much as I can. I moved around a lot when I married my husband, who was in the military,” Julie said. “I took time to soak in whatever knowledge I could gain from watching trainers, riders, barn managers, grooms and, most especially, the horses.”
While in Texas, Julie got the opportunity to apprentice as a farrier, and once she felt proficient enough to offer shoeing, she worked as a farrier on and off for five years alongside her training and lessons — and painting, something that she started to offer on the side. “I have great respect for full-time farriers. It’s a physical craft that takes talent to do well,” Julie said.
Julie also worked as a vet tech for five years in the early 2000s, but due to several injuries over the years, she stepped away from the vet world in 2008. She had always been painting and drawing different animals for clients during her adult life, but it wasn’t until a year later, in 2009, when she started considering taking her art to a new level and pursuing her passion professionally.
“Moving to West Texas in 2011 meant big changes in the type of employment I could have access to in the horse world,” Julie said. While living on her own ranch with plenty of room for her horses, it was not set up properly for lessons or full-time boarders. That didn’t bother Julie one bit. “It was sort of prophetic and a natural progression in my horse life — everything that occurred happened by a series of chances and opportunities.” This move focused her on building her art career.
The love of the horse is what brings out the best in Julie’s paintings. All horses, no matter breed or type, are special to her, but the warmbloods and Thoroughbreds hold a corner of her heart — as well as loveable ponies. “I love an athletic horse. Horses with elegant lines and beautiful conformation. Painting for clients and seeing so many different breeds on my easel, I appreciate every horse. I like seeing what the person who loves them sees in that horse, what makes them special.”
Using several reference images from her clients, Julie uses her vast equine knowledge to bring her subjects to life, carefully observing the little things that bring character and personality to her portraits. “I love getting enough info to catch the minute, subtle things like the lay of the coat hairs, a cowlick, the quality of the light on my subjects and the surroundings,” Julie said.
Although photos of the subject are required, sometimes a photograph just isn’t enough to catch all the subtleties, so a walk to the fields where her own horses reside is a must. “I have to piece together each painting from a series of photos while also going out to my own horses to find that missing bit of information on what I might be unable to see from a photo,” Julie said.
Relying on her own knowledge of anatomy and experience with horses, Julie’s work stands out in the crowd. “I think about things like the sky or the landscape, or horses and how they look in various types of light and season. I am fascinated with the quality of light and how it transforms the look of a piece of art.”
Constantly striving to improve her interpretation of light and how it conveys feeling in each painting, Julie says horses are a fantastic muse for light. “The drama of a bright directional light or the softness of a sunrise gets my creative juices flowing,” she said. “I love getting the chance to make a horse shine on the canvas.”
People from around the world have been captivated by the beauty of Julie’s paintings, and her work hangs in art collections in North America, Europe, South Africa and Australia. Surrounded by her variety of horses, ponies, cats, dogs and other animals on her ranch in Tuscola, Texas, Julie’s passion for horses and animals is overflowing, and she is all too happy to share that joy with others.
For more information www.equineartbyjulie.com