Alecia Barry Underhill
Website & Places you can find my work online
Equine Art Guild: Alecia Underhill
Facebook: Alecia Underhill
Follow Alecia on twitter: @aleciaunderhill
Where I am
Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
I am a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with a BFA in Illustration. I have worked for a greeting card company, developed my own posters and stamp products, and I have done freelance illustration for the company that makes Breyer horses. But my real love is oil painting. Horses are the main focus of my work, but I enjoy painting other animals as well.
When did you first start drawing & painting horses?
I was turned on to horses around age 8 or 9, and I had a drawing book for children that had all kinds of different subjects, but I kept drawing the horses over and over.
When I discovered the Black Stallion books, it really fueled the fire and I started reading every horse book I could find, and copying the work of some of the great horse illustrators like C.W. Anderson.
When I turned fourteen, I was able to start working at a riding stable, and I took my own pictures and drew from those. While in art school, I created the horse alphabet poster, and it was my first experience in creating a product and marketing it. It’s now in it’s second printing, and still selling.
What is your favorite breed to paint?
I can’t say that I have a favorite breed to paint. My favorite breed to own would be the Morgan. I’ve had two wonderful Morgan mares, and I had a lot of experience working with Morgans, but I find inspiration for paintings in just about all breeds. I tend not to see a horse as a breed representative, but as an individual.
You paint animals in a variety of disciplines, which one do you personally identify with the most?
My favorite painting subjects are probably just horses hanging out! I love to watch carriage driving, and jumping competitions, and polo matches, and other horse sports, but since I don’t compete myself, I find it all a bit distant. I suppose I identify with the school horses, the backyard horses, the horses that are behind the scenes.
I like to capture the small moments that take place in barns and stables everywhere, the look that a horse gives you when he’s waiting to be fed, or the alert look when he hears something unfamiliar.
Who are your main influences?
The equestrian artist I most admire is Sir Alfred Munnings, but my work is not anything like his loose painterly style. I look at a lot of contemporary art, and I am often influenced by artists who paint in a realist style but with a bold, graphic composition.
Do you (or did you) have an animal that is the muse behind your work?
My Morgan mare, Hylee Unique and her barn-mate, Keeper, both appear in quite a few of my paintings. Horses that I have easy access to photograph on a daily basis will always provide inspiration. My dog, Cheerio, and my two cats, Maizy and Pixel have also been painted several times, and now that we are raising chickens, I have been observing, photographing and painting a series of chickens.
Do you have any secret rituals you do to help you get in the zone for your art?
I am lucky enough to have a studio building separate from my house. Any time I enter that space, it is easy to get right to work on a painting. I like to listen to music or audio books while I paint. Sometimes I will schedule painting on a Saturday night so I can listen to Prairie Home Companion on public radio.
Is there a particular place that brings you inspiration?
Any place that I can observe and photograph horses in action will inspire me to paint. Visiting museums or galleries will also inspire me to work. I am always inspired after visiting a country fair. Cows and pigs are my other favorite subjects to paint, and they are so beautiful and clean at the fair!
What effect do you think the Internet will have on art in general?
I love how the Internet has made it so easy to promote your work. We no longer have to print expensive brochures—a website where people can see a wide range of work is an invaluable marketing tool.
Has it had an effect on yours?
Although there is no substitute for seeing works of art in person, and most of my sales are in-person sales, either through a gallery, or art shows, the internet has provided opportunities to reach a global audience.
Which one is your personal favorite piece?
I have a few favorites, but “Belle” is probably top of my list right now. This is a big, bold 36” square canvas, and she is bigger than life. I just love the composition of it, the shadows that sculpt her face and the way her eye draws you in.
Would you ever sell it?
“Belle” is for sale. Though I may have favorite paintings, I don’t become so attached to very many of them, especially the large ones—I don’t have any big walls on which to hang them in my home!
“Cheerio, Run” is a painting of my English Shepherd that I intended to bring to a gallery. Then I hung it on the wall of my bedroom and couldn’t part with it.
I have a couple of paintings of my horse and my cats that I won’t sell, either.
What else are you passionate about?
Children’s literature, gardening, cooking, quilting. I like to do things with my hands, other than just painting…although the further I get in my painting career, the less time I have to do those other things. I am passionate about the outdoors, preserving our planet, solar energy, saving the trails. And I place above all else the time I spend with my family, attending my son’s soccer games, school concerts, helping with homework.
I am as passionate about raising a responsible young man as I am about painting horses. It’s all about leading a well-balanced life.
Working on anything new?
As I mentioned, the chicken paintings are a new direction, and I have a very complicated large painting in progress I call my “Horse Colors” project. It’s a grid of 80 different horse heads, from black to bay to chestnut to grey. It’s an experimental painting, and a very good exercise in discipline. It’s a long-term project that I hope to finish up this winter.
My current project brings me back to freelance illustration. I’m working on a book about horse facts that needs about a hundred spot illustrations. It is good to get back to drawing, but when this project is finished I’ll be eager to pick up a paintbrush again.
More to Come
Thanks to Alecia for answering the interview and sharing her work (and for the use of her horse letters above). Be sure to check out her art website periodically for updates about her latest works.
Also stay tuned for more interviews with horse artists and photographers.
Are you a horse artist or do you know an equine artist you’d like to see featured? Add your name and website in the comments below or drop me a note to get involved.