Equine Artist Laura Barnhardt Corle
Learn how Laura's passion for horses inspired her career as an artist.
Darley Newman: Have horses and art always been a passion?
Laura Barnhardt Corle: I actually became an artist because I wanted a horse. In the late 50’s in Lima Ohio, the Meadowgold Dairy still had wagons pulled by horses. I saw that horse as a Firey Steed and was determined to be the Lone Ranger when I grew up, but my parents were unimpressed with the idea of my keeping one in the back yard... so I filled the want by drawing horses – all the time.
By junior high school, in the mid- to late 1960s, a new neighbor – a doctor – moved into the neighborhood and suddenly everyone who had horses in the neighborhood switched to riding English style. Turned out, as a young man, Dr. Schoeniger had ridden in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
Suddenly I had Ballet out my window on a daily basis, complete with tall boots and riding pants. It drove me nuts to just watch, so I drew even more to fill the need.
Dr Schoeniger's kids told me about a wonderful lady, who was such a wonderful instructor. Their father, in my view, as a rider in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, was an Olympic level rider — and he chose her to be his children's instructor. I wanted lessons from her!! Yet again – my parents made me wait.
It bugged me, naturally. But in the long run it was a bonus because with all that drawing I developed further skills as an artist –all because I had wanted something else. I had wanted a horse. Now, I love being an artist – and now, as an adult, I also get to ride—and wonder of wonders-with the same instructor that taught the Schoeniger children in the 60’s
It turns out that the more you do something, the better you get at it, and apparently, I drew a LOT.
By High School it was natural to be in Art. But later, as a parent, I made sure my daughter got to ride. And finally I couldn't stand just watching her ride and traded watercolor classes for riding lessons with Jean Hanson, the very same lady I heard of as a child from the Schoeniger’s. Amazingly, in her late 70s, she still taught!
If I ever learn just an ounce of what Jean holds in her little finger—then I will have accomplished something.
Darley Newman: Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Laura Barnhardt Corle: Everywhere. Just a blank piece of d’Arches 300 lb. weight hot press watercolor paper is inspiring! But, of course, a primary inspiration is that interest in horses, which never left me, and it has offshoots.
I see barns as interesting. They’re like churches inside. They rise up and are solid and strong. They have a quiet ancient dignity and a history that tells of the passage of time.
But the barns are aging and disappearing, so farmers don’t store loose hay in lofts anymore. Hay is baled and stacked-- the bales too heavy for a loft. So I look at a barn and paint the details that will be lost.
People inspire me too. The same way I was inspired as a kid by watching friends ride past my house, I’m inspired as an adult by my friend Jean, now in her 80’s and continuing to give lessons. I unabashedly want to be her when I grow up!
Darley Newman: There’s a lot of detail in your photo-realistic watercolor style. Does that make it more difficult? What are some challenges that you face painting horses?
Laura Barnhardt Corle: I don’t know if it’s actually more difficult to be so detailed, because, to me, detail is very much the fun part, but it’s definitely more time consuming.
I may spend around 80 or 90 hours on one painting. I’ll take photos with my camera or cell phone, which allows me later to work indoors where the lighting doesn’t change, and where it’s never too cold or hot for me to feel the brush.
And because I can work later, and indoors, farmers don’t wonder what I’m doing, why I’m painting it THAT color or try to fix things like they do when I paint on site. Because I paint photo-realistically, a farmer down the road may recognize that Bill’s barn needs mending.
Even so, even taking photos, I’ve noticed that they must call each other up like a prayer chain because by the time I’m taking photos at the 3rd or 4th barn, they’re out fixing the things I had felt were dignified and appealing.
One other thing. A photo is also a useful tool for me in recording detail that moves too quickly, in the case of an animal like a horse…who often has a different opinion of “holding still”.
Darley Newman: Your work “The Cribber” is familiar to many of us horse lovers. Is that a horse at your stables? What’s the story? She has a cute, yet mischievous look in her eyes.
Laura Barnhardt Corle: I was at an art fair at the county fairgrounds near Marietta Ohio and had been hearing horses whinnying. I took an art fair break, and explored the horse barns. I found this weanling. Her mother was in a neighboring barn, and they must have been recently separated because there was this conversation going back and forth between them. At any rate, this foal was definitely doing her very best to be appealing.
Darley Newman: Why is “Belgian Emergence” purposefully unfinished?
Laura Barnhardt Corle: When I started this painting, I had every intention of finishing it. It’s of two big Draft horses – Belgians- that have feet the size of pie plates, and they were both mares in foal.
The mare on the left had just scratched her chin with her hind hoof and turned to look at me. She was fairly relaxed and content and her ears were at ease.
The other mare was more than a bit huffy with her ears laced back. There was a point at which the painting was becoming excruciating, because I was painting all those tiny little hairs in the grain of her coat along the contour of her body as the light caught them, and found myself holding my breath!
So I set the painting aside to breathe a bit, but quickly discovered that protecting it from an unexpected splash of yellow ochre was a good idea; and the safest place for art is on the wall. While doing other things I still thought about those girls and looking at them, I realized that the whole painting would be brown.
I also realized that I liked seeing how much drawing is underneath a painting. Both mares are in foal.
One’s content-almost smug, but the other seems huffy. Were her ears laced back because she’s not done yet, or because she’s stuck in foal forever? It seemed much more fitting to the story to leave them as they were.
Darley Newman: What is your advice to our readers who may want to pursue art as their career?
Laura Barnhardt Corle: Best thing to tell someone who wants to pursue art as a career is to be diligent.
You have to have a fire in your belly and really want It! I’ve read that 10% of those who study art never make a living doing what they were trained to do.
I recommend making yourself employable in your field so you can be self- sustaining in your craft. Cover your basis and get a degree in your field. This polishes your ability and readies you for whatever market you are in, so that your art can support both itself and you.
I have my Bachelor’s in Fine Arts degree from Ohio Northern University-- best thing I ever did. If I were to do it again, I’d also have my Master’s.
You don’t know what life is going to dish out, so cover your bases in such a way that in a fluctuating economy you can do what you are compelled and feel called to do.
I am fortunate. I teach and have a studio to work in where there are other artists. Having that contact with other artists is invaluable. Their critiques and comments are invaluable, and the spontaneous feedback inspires even more creativity.
Darley Newman: What would you tell readers who long to be around horses, but like you, may have to wait a while and work hard to make it happen?
Laura Barnhardt Corle: Sometimes you have to be creative in ways you didn’t expect. Life didn’t take me in a direction that got me near horses for a long, long time. But when my daughter wanted lessons, I couldn’t stand not riding any longer, and I began by trading watercolors classes for riding lessons.
There are lots of things barn managers are willing to be helped out with and what they give you to do may even turn out to be the beginning of lessons. Picking out burrs from a mane or picking hooves…there may even be a shovel involved. Granted, I was in my 40’s when I finally was able to get close to horses. That was probably excessive patience on my part. If it’s your dream, don’t let yourself be deferred!!
Darley Newman: How are horses therapy for you?
Laura Barnhardt Corle: Will Rogers said “The outside of a horse is good for the Inside of a Man.” I think it’s something about that partnership that feeds your soul.
To some of us the aromatherapy of a horse is sweet perfume.
I always felt that way, but as an adult I find myself with Multiple Sclerosis. Now, I could have gone to “Horses for the Handicapped” but never did, because I had a chance to do what I wanted all my life and to learn dressage patterns, right hand canter leads, counter canters, crossovers and side passes. I have MS, not a handicap. And yes, riding helps me, but I don’t know if it’s fulfillment of that long-time desire, or the movement of a horse’s body under my English saddle that does it.
Right now it’s cold in Ohio and my instructor has gone to Arizona for the winter. That's my seasonal deprivation, not lack of sunlight. As far as MS goes, it’s an inconvenience and I’m actually quite very lucky.
Perhaps this is why I’m fierce about telling people who want to get into art that you have to really want it. You never know what will happen in life. It’s like insurance. You plan and cover your bases.
If you want something badly enough, you’ll find an avenue to make it work. I have MS, yet my studio is a 2nd floor walk-up, and to set up my booth for an art fair I have boxes that weigh about 150 lb. a tent and wall panels.
Exercise is good for you, and that’ll help me get to the barn later. When you are an artist, you worked hard to get there but people don’t expect all that work behind it, so I was never deterred by doing things people didn’t think I could do... like being too old to ride.
I have a friend with pancreatic cancer and another with GIST, a difficult and rare chemo-resistant cancer, and I have yet another student who has Parkinson’s, who comes up those tall 28 steps to reach my studio for her classes. My riding instructor is in her 80s…They’ve all inspired the dickens out of me.
I’m not going to let myself miss out on riding. It’s good for my Soul!!
Laura Barnhardt Corle is currently an adjunct instructor of art at Ohio Northern University where she teaches art appreciation. She is also a freelance artist and teacher in the Findlay area, offering eight-week watercolor classes at her studio. Laura exhibits locally, regionally and nationally. Her work has been accepted in countless art shows, and she has participated in many regional art fairs and festivals such as the Ann Arbor Art Fair and the Black Swamp Arts Festival. She is a member of the Findlay Art League and has a studio in the Jones Building in Findlay.
In 2010, Laura was honored when three pieces were accepted into the Community Gallery of the Toledo Museum of Art, a world class museum, for the Findlay Area Artist Exhibit, and was also honored by having a watercolor accepted in the 92 Annual Toledo Area Artists Exhibit.
See Laura's watercolors at Ohio Northern University during "Celebrating 50 Years of the Art Major" from March 18 and to April 17th 2011, with the Artist's Reception March 20. The hours are noon until 5 daily. The show that celebrates the 50th year of the Art Major at Ohio Northern University. Laura was the first to graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree with a specialty in Painting, specifically, Watercolors.
Learn more about Laura and see more of her work at photorealisticwatercolors.com.