Horse Artist Interview – Ann Ranlett

Ann & MagpieName
Ann Ranlett

Website & Places you can find my work online
Websites: &
My original art and reproductions of it (prints, note cards, magnets, earrings):
Bonanzle: Ann Ranlett
Etsy: Ann Ranlett
Artfire: Ann Ranlett
Cafepress: Ann Ranlett
Zazzle: Ann Ranlett
Follow Anne on twitter: @AnnRan5

Where I am
In Newcastle in Northern California, it’s between Sacramento & Auburn. My husband & I live on a lovely 3.5 acre parcel of oak woodlands that we call “Swamp Dog Ranch”.

Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you
come from?

I’ve loved animals all my life and my parents supported that. We had dogs and cats, but also a guinea pig, rats, snakes, lizards and frogs at various times. Mom was not squeamish, thank goodness.

I never had a horse or pony, but I took riding lessons off and on until high school. For a birthday present one year, my husband brought out the horse bug again by getting me riding lessons.

Belgian Gaze

Then I got my first horse when I was in my 30s – a quarter horse gelding. Now I have a wonderful palomino quarter horse mare. She’s 26 but still in amazing shape. We also have a 7 year old border collie who is highly entertaining.

I graduated in 1985 with a degree in biology from CSU, Sacramento. Worked at the Sacramento Zoo for a few years as the volunteer & events coordinator, then on to jobs at environmental consulting firms where I created maps & graphics.

With the support of my husband, I’ve been working at art full time for the past 6 years. It’s because of the pet portrait niche that I felt it was reasonable to make the “big leap”. I had quite a few commissions when I quit my job and have had a steady stream since. More in-depth information can be found on my bio and my resumé.

In addition to pet portraits and other critter and nature-related art, I also do some graphic design & web design.

When did you first start drawing and painting?
I think a lot of artists say this, but it’s true: I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon (so I started about 45 years ago!). I’ve always been fascinated by animals, so they have been my primary subject all these years.


You work with ink on scratchboard, can you tell us a little about your technique?
My scratchboard technique is a bit different than most. When people hear “scratchboard”, they generally think of the black surface with white lines scratched into it. I have done a few drawings that way, but I prefer to use white scratchboard.

I start with a white surface and paint/draw the blacks where I want them and then scratch those areas to get detail. I also re-ink areas to refine the detail. For the re-inking, I use a technical pen. I have a love-hate relationship with my Rapidograph pens.

There’s a demo/technique page on my website. I learned this technique from Trudy Nicholson, a fantastic illustrator. I took a workshop from her at an annual Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) conference in the late 90’s.

I’d worked with pen & ink on paper for many years, but when I learned this technique from Trudy, I was hooked. Definitely a “light bulb moment” for me!

I also take this process a step further and use washes of ink to create shades of grey. The inking/scratching process is still pretty much the same though. Most of my grey-toned pet portraits are done with this method (although some are in graphite pencil). (At the bottom of the demo page listed above, you’ll see a sample and a bit more info.)

What other mediums do you use?
I work in 2 styles and a variety of media. For my realistic works, I use the ink on scratchboard described above, graphite pencil or a mix of watercolor, ink & color pencil.

For what I call my “Paintings with Petzazz”, I work in watercolor on Yupo for a looser style in vibrant colors. The Yupo is a great surface – much different than traditional watercolor paper, it reacts differently. It’s a synthetic paper that’s very smooth and bright white. Because the water/paint doesn’t soak into the surface, it has to evaporate, which leaves wonderful watermarks and puddles and very bright colors. You can see samples here.

Midnight Mini

You paint all kinds of animals, do you have a favorite subject?
Not really, I’m game to try a painting or drawing of any critter.

I have the most practice with dogs though, simply because I’ve gotten more commissions for dog portraits than any other animal subjects. I recently accepted a commission for a snail painting!

This client had purchased my tomato (yes, I’ve done a few vegetable paintings) and tomato worm paintings and decided she needed a third painting. She had a photo someone had given her of a snail and wondered if I’d paint that. Heck, why not?

Do you (or did you) have an animal that is the muse behind your work?
No specific muse, just animals in general. The fact that I love them and have always had them in my life has given me years of observation into their expressions, structure, hair patterns, proportions, etc. This allows me to capture their spirit in my art and also to render them accurately. Even in my looser paintings, I want the proportions to be right. Remember, I’m a biologist!


Is there a particular place that brings you inspiration?
I’m not an emotional artist (that’s not to say I’m not an emotional person – show me a video of a superb freestyle dressage or a filly running at liberty with her dam and I’ll get a bit misty eyed!) – my inspiration doesn’t come from a place or a feeling, as much as it comes from the challenge of rendering my subject in whatever medium I’ve chosen for that piece of art. And if it’s a commissioned piece, the inspiration comes from the goal of wanting my client to be really, really happy with the final piece!

What effect do you think the Internet will have on art in general?
It certainly has allowed more artists to gain more exposure. And as individuals, there are opportunities for us to create our own market by selling our work or reproductions of it on the web. It’s overwhelming, really. Every time I turn around, there’s a new sales venue. It’s hard not to jump onto every new site. But there just aren’t enough hours in a day.

I joined Twitter late last year, not really knowing what to expect, but I kept hearing about it so I figured I should check it out. It’s been so much more than I thought it would be and it’s been a really great way to share my work with others. There’s certainly a finesse to it though, you can’t just go posting about your work and nothing else. It’s important to build relationships first – sincerely connect with your followers and give them a reason to care about you and your art.

Lawnmower Attachment

Has it had an effect on yours?
Absolutely! I’m able to offer my work to a much larger market. I have my work in a local co-op Gallery (Auburn Old Town Gallery), but it’s nice for it to be visible far beyond that. The on-line sales have been modest to date, but the potential is there and my art now lives in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and all over the US. I know that it takes time to build the sales/income and I’m in it for the long haul.

The down side is that it takes time away from creating art, but if I don’t market my work, no one will find it. Besides, I really enjoy the techie/computer side of things too. I’ve had my own web sites for years and I set up/customize my own shops on-line.

Which one is your personal favorite piece?
“Cloud 9” – a painting of Patch, one of our dogs napping on the bed. I love it because it’s so “him”. He passed away a couple of years after I did that painting, so it’s nice to have that fun memory. Of course I have many, many photos of him also.

Cloud 9

Would you ever sell it?
It sold shortly after I painted it. I paint/draw subjects close to my heart, but I want my art to sell and I’m thrilled when something I’ve done strikes a chord with someone else and they buy it.

So much of my work is commission work, that I guess I’m in that mind set that it’ll “go out the door” even with the non-commissioned pieces. Hah, I just wish it would all “go out the door”!

And I scan everything I paint/draw, so I still “have” the painting of our “Patchy Boy”.

What else are you passionate about?
I enjoy birding (bird watching) and photography. Whenever possible, I take my own photos for pet portraits and other drawings/paintings. I also support animal rescue and donate to some of my local rescue facilities when I can.

One of those is A Chance for Bliss, they mainly rescue special needs/senior horses and small dogs, but they have quite a menagerie – some pigs, goats, geese too. I’m a member and co-leader of Art for Critters (A4C), we’re a group of artists who sell our art on-line and donate a portion of the proceeds to select animal charities.

Working on anything new?
Nothing particularly different, but always new – I’m fortunate to have a steady stream of pet portraits to work on. Something interesting and horse related though – it happened last year, but the books just came out. A huge 19′ x 23′ mural of a horse created by a team of artists from around the world. Le Cadeau du Cheval by Mural Mosaic.

And I’ve submitted this drawing to the juried equine art show at the annual Draft Horse Classic show in nearby Grass Valley, CA.

Pinto Filly

More to Come

Thanks to Ann for answering the interview and sharing her work. 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.

4 Comments on “Horse Artist Interview – Ann Ranlett

  1. Melody Lea Lamb

    What a unique and interesting artist! The interview was so thorough and full of information. I really enjoyed getting to know Ann better and seeing more of her art!


  2. Kathy Valentino

    Wonderful article on an incredibly talented and versatile artist. Especially enjoyed reading about Ann’s unique approach to scratchboard art. Very interesting!


  3. Laurie Martin

    I love the painting of Patch. I can tell what a special dog he was. I wonder if there was a real “Swamp Dog” behind “Swamp Dog Ranch”. There must have been a hound somewhere.

    – Laurie J-

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