Award Winning Equine Artist Kathi Peters
A life of travel, art and horses inspired award-winning equestrian artist Kathi Peters.
Learn about her path to success in this artist interview.
I draw, I paint and I muck stalls... that's my day! I am a professional artist with 4 horses, a dog and a cat and a husband.... In that order. And I have been blessed.
Darley Newman: At what age did you know that you wanted to be an artist? When did you first draw or paint horses?
Kathi Peters: I have always been “an artist” at some level, even as a young child. While I was in grade school my parents enrolled me in afternoon art classes with a local artist, where I started out painting in watercolor and drawing with charcoal.
We did a lot of still-life drawing. We also had creative time where the teacher had us listen to classical music and then paint what images we thought of while listening to the music. I was about seven at the time and a horse crazy kid too!
I had received my first pony when I was three-years-old. Dolly was a feisty Welsh pony that used to throw my brothers off her back when they rode her, but she took good care of me.
I spent my days with our horses. I even did my homework while lying on the back of our horses. Teachers complained that my homework smelled of horse. My school books were covered with drawings of horses! I went through a series of horses as I grew.
My favorite was an Irish hunter named Duchess, who was given to me. Duchess and I rode all around the countryside around my family’s farm in the mountains of New Hampshire. It was a wonderful life for a young girl who was horse crazy.
Then, when I was nine, my father’s work took him to Italy and the family followed. Our life changed a lot then. We lived in the city of Milan, where I continued my education with a tutor. We spent many an afternoon in art museums. Italy has a wealth of art to experience, and I was privileged to see a great portion of it. I also was able to continue my riding, but it was a controlled environment.
I was taught by a military officer, and it was all a bit intimidating. We did jumping, and it was all indoors, with no roaming the countryside with the freedom that I was used to back on our New Hampshire farm. But just to get my fill of horses, I went back week after week to ride.
Darley Newman: You art studied in Italy and are a fellow travel lover. How does travel inspire your work?
Kathi Peters: We travelled a lot while living in Italy. I loved travelling, meeting the people from different countries and seeing how they lived.
I used to keep travel logs and sketchbooks were always a part of my paraphernalia. I really loved Switzerland and found it reminded me a lot of our home back in the USA.
I remember the horse racing on ice in St Moritz-- the excitement of that sport. I rode draft horses bareback in the farmlands of Italy. I begged my parents to take horse drawn carriages in villages and cities we visited-- anything to do with horses!!
Then there was a span in my life where I wasn’t around horses so much. I was busy with school and art museums. Going to La Scala Opera House to listen to opera became a favorite pastime. Art was all around me. Every piazza had some statue. The Italian architecture and history is steeped in art. I knew then that I would be involved in the art world in some way.
I went to commercial art college and at the young age of seventeen, I also applied to The Rome Academy Of Fine Art and was accepted and given a full scholarship. For a while, I attended both schools.
I think every artist is affected by everything that they have seen or experienced in their lives. Then, what we feel or see comes out of our memory bank and becomes a part of who we are and how we paint.
I have been told I have a palate that is very “Italian”....”Mediterranean”. I don’t know how true that might be, but I am sure my process of working is influenced by my life growing up in Italy, and what I saw traveling throughout Europe and in Northern Africa.
Darley Newman: With four horses at home in Maine, you must have daily inspiration. Do you have a favorite work you've created? A favorite horse?
Kathi Peters: We moved to our present home about eight years ago. We brought with us our three horses. (two Tennessee Walking Horses and one Welsh Cob).
We rebred our Cob mare to a handsome Maine Welsh Cob, who we had bred this mare to before, and had received a wonderful colt. The colt was sold to a good home, where he is shown and campaigned in carriage driving.
We now have another Cob, our Maggie, who is coming on seven-years-old. So, I care for four horses at this point.
I have painted and photographed these horses often, and they are often the subjects of my artwork. My whole series “Shades of Black” is all about my two black Tennessee Walker geldings. In this series, I discovered the colors and reflections of light on a black horse.
I then went to painting a new series ”Shades of Gray”, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t paint other colors of horses! I have travelled all over New England and traveled south to Lexington KY, the horse center of the USA, for horse subjects to paint.
I do have some favorite paintings that I have done over the years. I know some artists say that their favorite is the next one they will be doing. I have definite favorites of my work that I've already done.
One is a watercolor I created some years back, and it was sold, but I still offer giclee reproductions of the original. It is the painting “Head Study, Acadia”. It depicts a Friesian driving horse that I saw driving up at Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine.
The light was hitting his face and bridle just right, and I connected with him. It is one of my more representational works.
What I am doing today is more “abstract “ and impressionistic.
My Tennessee Walker, Imperial Dominator D, is my “heart horse’. Dom and I have logged over 950 competitive miles over our years together. Dom is now thirty-years-old and I know I won’t have him with me much longer.
He is a very opinionated old man and will tell you if he doesn’t like something. A big handsome horse, he will be much missed when he goes. My other TWH gelding is Sundust’s Glory Boy B. [aka Duster] He was born on our Thistle Mead Farm years ago. He is out of my TWH mare Ebony when she was a young twenty-years-old!
I have known some really wonderful horses in my life... some of them mine!
Darley Newman: What aspect of painting realistic details of horses and carriage driving is most challenging?
Kathi Peters: I think that just like painting figurative work, you need to study the human form, doing life studies. Painting the horse takes a broad knowledge of the horse and his bone and muscle structure.
I am always studying how our horses move, how their feet hit the ground, how shadows play on their skin, muscles and bone. And their eye....how the bone is surrounding the eye orb. If the eye is done wrong, the horse is done wrong. The eye is the soul of the horse. I study it!
Depicting carriage driving is wonderfully exciting for me. I like capturing the fluid movement of the horses and the more horses the better. This juxtaposed with the straight lines of the carriages... wonderful!
It really makes one stop, study and look hard to get it all right. I love painting the driven horse.
Having a working understanding of the sport of driving helps too... how the whip should be held, the reins placed. It all helps to make a believable painting.
We love driving. We have a dream of going driving through the countryside of Tuscany! How wonderful that would be!
Darley Newman: You create art using casein (a milk based archival paint), watercolors and paper cut drawings. What is your favorite medium and why?
Kathi Peters: I also paint in oil, but yes, casein is my medium of choice. I love the matte, earthy colors that I have with casein. I love how the paint has a gritty feel and the way I can use it both opaque and transparent.
I use it on both canvas and paper. The look of casein is different, and I love the look, but that does not mean I like watercolor any less! I love how watercolor has a mind of its own.
I am not doing the paper cutting so much anymore. I suffered a stroke several years ago that left me with some deficits with feeling in my right hand. I am right handed, and the paper cutting is a bit too intense for me now. I may do one every so often, but find I can’t hold the tools for it so well now. It is too tiring, so I stick with my casein, watercolor and oils.
Darley Newman: I like the colors and quirky stare from the woman in "A Lady And Her Horse," and I was taken aback at first by the purple horse in "She Rode a Purple Horse." Why is the horse purple?
Kathi Peters: Why not a purple horse? I have always been one to question boundaries...... coloring inside the lines? Why?
I see a lot of purple in the shadows of a chestnut horse, so why not make a chestnut horse purple? Thus, “She Rode A Purple Horse” came into being.
“A Lady and her Horse “ is a casein done from a photo provided by friend Yvonne Kaukija of Coldwell Farm in Sweden. Yvonne is a brilliant photographer and movie producer. She also has a beautiful daughter and a farm of wonderful Arabian horses. This painting depicts her daughter and her horse. It was my privilege to paint it.
Darley Newman: Do you have any tips for aspiring equine artists?
Kathi Peters: I think the best advice that I might give is follow your heart, whatever you do in life, and you will be happy. If painting the subject of the horse is your dream, study the horse. Draw them from real life as often as you can, as you can’t really see their bone and three dimensional shape from a photograph.
You need to KNOW the real animal. Study the work of artists throughout history. There have always been artists depicting the horse. Learn from those who came before, and then sing your own song. Make your painting of the horse your own! Know your subject.