By Shya Beth
British artist Shannagh-Leigh Hartshorn knows how to fuse her passion for horses and art together. From starting her own art business and adventuring through new media, Shannagh-Leigh constantly evolves and strives to perfect her art, bringing small but noticeable details through each portrait.
Born in Bolton, England, Shannagh-Leigh has always been an equine enthusiast and ponies were a fundamental part of Shannagh-Leigh’s life since she started riding at a young age. From a small child to a young adult, she has made horses her passion, which helped launch her into an art career. “It actually started out as a part-time thing,” she said. “I was going to college for art and started accepting commissions on the side. I graduated from Edge Hill University in 2017 after studying fine art and design, and I’ve been working for myself ever since.” Things continued to pick up, and before she knew it, she had more and more people contacting her to share her passion and skill with the world.
Escaping With Horses
When asked if she has a particular favorite memory with horses, Shannagh-Leigh begins her answer the same as many. “This is a hard question! I’m not sure if I have one moment, but I remember while I was studying I’d have a hard day and I’d take the bus to the stable and just spend time with the horse I was leasing. We’d go for a lovely hack around the marina, and just spending time in the stable with all the horses would lift my spirits. That particular horse always looked after me and taught me a lot. Escaping with horses is my favorite memory.”
Shannagh-Leigh spent about 10 years at a riding school, then leased a few ponies and a horse. “It was such a wonderful experience,” she said. “They were all a huge inspiration for my art and became subjects of a few drawings!”
Now at 24 years old, she resides in Manchester, United Kingdom, working on her full-time job as an animal portrait artist. “My favorite thing about art is asking people to view things the same way I view them,” Shannagh-Leigh said. “With my painting series ‘Horse Power,’ I really wanted to capture the power and strength of the animal. Sometimes that can be lost in traditional portraiture that just captures the beauty of the horse, and it was a really fun way to be able to change things up a bit. On the other hand, if someone wants a portrait to just celebrate the beauty of the animal, I can do that, too. I feel like I’m sharing a little bit of myself and what I love in my art, and sharing that with people is just amazing. People say I capture their animals’ personality in my paintings as well as their spirit through the eyes.”
What media does Shannagh-Leigh work in? More than your average artist, for sure. “I work in a variety of different media, but I currently welcome commissions in acrylic and water-soluble colored pencil. I actually started out in digital paintings; I created digital portraits by hand using art programs such as Photoshop, which is where I found my love for realism and detail. It wasn’t until I went to college that I learned how to translate my work into the traditional medium. I do find practicing both digital and traditional media helps me to continue to improve.”
Larger Scale Paintings
Size is another variable, as well. From miniature to life-size, Shannagh-Leigh does it all. “I found my love for water-soluble colored pencils during college and fell in love with their richness and ability to work light to dark, which I found incredibly helpful to transition from digital to traditional media. A few years ago, I decided to try acrylic, as I felt the ability to layer acrylic would be most similar to digital work. I adore the medium and use it to create my larger-scaled paintings.”
The “Horse Power” series Shannagh-Leigh produced during college has been a huge inspiration for her work to date, and helped her create her larger paintings that aim to capture the power of the horse. “I love to bring characters to life in paintings, priding myself in my attention to detail,” she said. “I create realistic paintings with a ‘painterly’ feel, be it the brush strokes used or a slightly richer color in my artwork.”
Shannagh-Leigh is excited about the future. “Surrounded by lots of larger acrylic horse paintings, I’d love to make that my focus and where I take my art,” she said. “I’ve also started creating video walkthroughs of my drawing and painting progress — if I can share my techniques with others and they go away and create amazing pieces from what they learned, that would just be an amazing feeling.”
For more information visit shannagh.co.uk
Photos courtesy of Shannagh-Leigh Hartshorn