Horse Artist Interview – Kimberly Santini

Frisky HorseName
Kimberly Kelly Santini

Website & Places you can find my work online
Studio site:
Studio blog:
Daily painting project:
Etsy: KSantani
Equine Art Guild: Kimberly Santini
Canine Art Guild: Kimberly Santini
Follow Kimberly on twitter: @ksantini

Where I am

Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
My husband would suggest the possibility I’ve come from a place light years away. Sometimes it feels like that, when I’m off in my head mixing colors and laying down shapes, and there’s an alien tugging at my sleeve wanting to know where they’ve left their shoes/coat/favorite sweatshirt/homework/whatever.

But really I’m from a small town in Michigan. Grew up like most normal small town kids, feeling like a misfit and not sure what exactly what I wanted (other than a horse) but definitely wanting more than my current offerings.

Went to college and studied painting, art history, photography, ceramics, creative writing and computer programming. A little bit of everything, I know. Well, at least, everything that mattered to me at that time.

Black Horse

Got married and moved to California to experience sunshine, culture, and adult life (not necessarily in that order). Worked for a museum’s library (did I mention I am a voracious reader?) and towards MFA in painting. Played very hard and loved every minute of it.

Moved back to Michigan when kids started growing up, as I (we – I need to remember hubby here!) wanted to give them the sort of childhood we had had. Different small town, but same formula. Yup, that upbringing that was so unsettling 30 years prior was now very comfortable and appealing.

When did you first start drawing animals?
I think in the womb. Drawing seems so natural, so basic, that it’s got to have been something I did in my head before I could even hold a crayon. It’s inside of me every moment, and always has been from my earliest memories. I’m so lucky in that regard, to have something that fits me like a second skin.

Looking Back Palomino

What inspired you to paint a dog a day & have you really stuck with it, EVERY day?
The biggest obstacle keeping me from initially committing to the daily paintings was my fear of failure, of not being able to paint every day. Hence I structured the project so that I was obligated to only paint 5 of 7 days.

Typically they are work days – my kids are in school and hubby’s at work, so I’m able to go into the studio without distractions.

Life happens – a sick child or technical glitches – and I’ve learned to roll with the punches. When push comes to shove, I paint in the wee hours of the day, or squeeze multiples in on other days to help strrr-etch the week out.

There have been a few times over the course of the last couple years when I just couldn’t get it done – I can count them on one hand – and when that is the case, I share a re-run (a favorite painting from a prior day) or build a newsy post about something art related.

Overall, however, my obsessive-compulsive side is happy with my ability to remain committed to the idea of creating art regularly.

How long does it take you on average to feel like a piece is completed?
This can vary depending on the complexity of the piece and the subject matter. A typical daily painting will spend several hours on the easel (this does not count the prep time in assembling references and building the concept, nor does it bring into account the lifetime of practice and study leading up to the particular moment I pick up the paintbrush) – but there are always others that could stretch over days while I try to get the values just so or a particular likeness established.

And sometimes I have to let a piece just go, be done with it, because it will never measure up to what’s inside my head. Those are the toughest paintings, the ones that haunt me, and some will only sit on the easel for 30 minutes before I realize they are too ambitious for my current skill set. I do try to tackle them again down the road, though – I’m rarely content to let something like that slide.

The hardest thing ever? To share one of those sup-par paintings as part of the daily project. But I’ve realized it’s important to also demonstrate that no-one can be at 100% all of the time.

Lashes & Corkscrews

Who are your main influences?
As a child I loved picture books. Who am I kidding, as an adult I love them too!! I have always envied Shel Silverstein and secretly harbored the wish that Dr. Suess was a relative.

And there’s nothing like losing yourself in a great picture book (with a child tucked under your arm) to make you want to paint something meaningful.

As an adult I am inspired by a variety of artists. Great masters aside, some contemporary artists who regularly knock my socks off are Kathi Peters, Katie Upton, Richard Schmit, Casey Bough, Carol Marine, Karin Jurick, Karen Appleton, Julian Merrow-Smith, Duane Keiser, Vianna Szabo, Sharon Will, Elin Pendleton (let me stop and take a breath).

What thrills me? Saturated color balanced with harmonic grays, masterful brushwork, balanced and simple compositions, unexpected touches of color/subject matter, and exciting edgework that surreptitiously controls the viewer’s eye.

Do you (or did you) have an animal that is the muse behind your work?
I lost my studio muses last year, at least in the physical sense.

Miah and Turtledove, both cats, continue to show up in my paintings and romp through my dreams. I even hear them scurrying about the house on occasion (or is that a squirrel in the attic?!).

Finnigan, our blue heeler mix, is a delight, but he’s a little too active to play the part of muse. He does pout at the foot of my easel if I’m really focused more so on painting than him, but he rarely lounges or lingers anywhere long enough for my eyes to feast on his lines like the cats used to.

I also pull a lot of energy from who-ever I am painting. I visualize them moving about the studio as they might in their own home/yard, and this helps me to wrap my brain and brushes around capturing their likeness.


Do you have any secret rituals you do to help you get in the zone for your art?
Discipline, which really isn’t a secret, but it is key.

My routine is an early morning walk with the dog – a brisk one, so that I am out of breath at the end (and he’s a little worn out), but also key in that it’s early morning. This means the streets are all mine, shared with those early birds getting their worms. My head is thus clear when I come into the studio.

An almost-full belly – I used to skip breakfast and suck down coffee all day. I would hit a wall mid-afternoon and turn to sweets to make it through the end of the day. Now I have a light simple meal and some juice, and break for a ½ sandwich and fruit near noontime.

The right music – it’s got to match the sunlight (or lack thereof), the painting, and my mood. Itunes makes it so easy to get this right every single time.

What is your favorite animal to paint?
Horses most definitely. I couldn’t have one growing up, and my mother recognized my desire enough to indulge me and allow drawings taped to my bedroom walls.

Joy Kay
High Noon Toogie

Drawing and painting horses has been my escape for over 30 years now, and that most likely isn’t going to change.

What effect do you think the Internet will have on art in general?
The internet has allowed emerging artists to gather collectors and fans (and gallery representation even) without the traditional structure of having an agent or gallery representation.

It also is allowing collectors to refine their tastes – they are able to see in a matter of minutes a greater variety of artwork than what they might usually see on a visit to their local cultural center/gallery.

This means that it now falls upon artists to maintain an excellent website that will convert fans to collectors. Furthermore, artists are now fully aware of what others in their genre are doing, regardless of geographic location, and thusly responsible to create even more exciting and stellar work.

And, often the biggest obstacle for those of us who like to hole up in our studios and turn the phones off – self-representing artists now have to sell and market themselves, talk it up with the public, and take on the role previously held by gallery staff.

Rest Hachi & Tribute Dog Collar

Has it had an effect on yours?
Absolutely. I would not have a successful studio or the bulk of my clients without the Internet. Approximately 90% of my sales are to out-of-state buyers. These people have found my website or seen my work on the walls of a friend or family member (who previously found my website).

The internet has also provided me with an opportunity to discover other artists, actively seek their feedback, build friendships and even mentoring relationships. This has allowed me to grow my skill set exponentially, all from the comfort of my own home, whilst sitting in my jammies with bed head at the computer.

Which one is your personal favorite piece?
The pieces I connect with the most are the ones carrying personal emotional/sentimental baggage. The portrait of my young daughter cuddling our cat (well, in reality, she throttled the poor thing whenever it came near enough, but through the power of artistic license I’ve rewritten that truth), another painting of my son drawing his own self-portrait in sidewalk chalk. And of course the posthumous portraits of Miah and Turtle.

Would you ever sell it?
Nope, none of them. I would be more than happy to paint something similar, however, should a client ever ask.

These paintings aren’t about money to me – they are about shared moments, childhood, lifetimes. Things that we carry always in our hearts. I’m just lucky enough to be occasionally be able to put them on my walls.

Relaxed Kay Thoroughbred

What else are you passionate about?
My family. We love to camp, bicycle, play soccer, bar-b-q, listen to (and play) music, hang with friends – very old school sort of activities (probably that darned small town influence again!).

Animal advocacy – It’s especially meaningful that I am able to support my shelter through painting sales (10% will get donated this year). During the school holidays, the kids and I volunteer at our shelter. My youngest son has especially caught the bug, and spends weekends volunteering with a rescue group during their adoption events.

Local advocacy and historic preservation – We live in an older home that is part of a National Historic District. As anyone who lives in or loves older homes knows, that means more than regular maintenance and updating.

I love the history we discover every time we open up a wall or even plant a tree. I love the satisfaction I get from sitting on a board or committee and working to create positive change in our community. I especially enjoy watching my children as they foster their own interests in local history and lore and nurture their own ideas for events and happenings.

Poignant Lucy Lab

Working on anything new?
I’m always working on new things.

I’m editing and doing the layout for my second book, “That’s 14 in Dog Years,” which will include highlights of the second year of daily paintings. “That’s 14 in Dog Years” will be published this summer.

I’m gearing up for Derby Week, which will include at least 5 new equines as part of Painting a Dog a Day.

I’m also starting a much larger canvas, a still life piece, inspired by the vintage toys and children’s books that have been accumulating in the studio and showing up in the occasional daily painting. This painting will most likely take several months to complete, given my current workload of commissions and exhibitions.

And I’m laying the groundwork to begin teaching multi-day workshops – a painting retreat of sorts. Like summer camp, but without the bugs, and with lotsa creation time.

All this while Painting a Dog a Day continues in the background. I’m booked with commissions through till March of 2010 (email me if you are interested in your own painting), and plan to continue painting daily for as long as there remains interest (both mine and collectors’).

More to Come

Thanks to Kim for answering the interview and sharing her art. Be sure to subscribe to her studio blog 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.

9 Comments on “Horse Artist Interview – Kimberly Santini

  1. Ophelia

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful artwork. I especially loved the head study at the top. Wow – a painting a day – very courageous!

  2. Loretta

    Kim’s work brings me true pleasure and her gift of expression amazes me, awesome interview.

  3. Judy Narducci

    Thank you Kim for bringing beauty and God’s lovely creatures into my life. Your paintings come from your inner beauty which spills onto the canvas and brings it all to those who love art, nature and animals.

  4. Angie Ketelhut

    Hi Kim~Congrats on a Great interview! Your artwork is absolutely gorgeous & inspiring. I have enjoyed learning a more about you & your process. All the Best!

  5. Kimberly Santini

    Thanks so much to all who’ve read and commented! I have the best job ever, and look forward to sharing more paintings with you – especially the horses that are to come this Derby Week!!

  6. Cali Tatum

    I have watched Kim’s work blossom over the past 4 years. Her three prong talents are what set her apart from most other artists. She is a great artist, she has people skills and she knows how to market her work.
    In Kim’s words, “It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve realized how much more powerful my paintings can be if I instead focus primarily on the color temperature and less so on matching what the base or root hue is. I’m enjoying this diversion and all it is teaching me.”
    She can self-edit and evaluate and she knows painting is not stagnant. Her aesthetic is what I find so compelling along with her ability to use color. It is not a tired work that you have seen 100 times. It is a work that you can look at day after day and feel happy you can live with it every day and enjoy it. Bravo Kim.

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