Growing up in several midwestern states, Karen Bonnie was born with a passion for horses and dogs, and spent her early years drawing them and other animals. At the University of Missouri at St. Louis, she studied for a biology degree. Her path took her out west, first to New Mexico, then Colorado to the mountain town of Del Norte, where she and her husband, Pete, had a small herd of longhorn cattle, then back to New Mexico where she currently lives near the historic town of Lincoln. Surrounded by the imposing mountains nearby, her passion for horses, and cowboy and Native American cultures and the natural world are her daily inspiration and home for her soul. When weather allows, she hikes and rides, staying close to Nature’s humbling beauty and power, and often paints plein air with her horse hobbled nearby, or paints one of her own horses in the corral to better understand equine form.
“Commercial photographer, darkroom technician, graphic designer, ranching…all my previous pursuits come into play in my current work. Even classic car refinishing and woodworking are skills that I now use to build my own frames. I have the mouldings milled, then I finish each one using colors from the painting to be framed, so the painting and frame make a harmonious presentation.”
It wasn’t until she was in her late ’40’s that she tried oil painting and immediately fell in love with the medium. At the time, she lived in Abiquiu, New Mexico where she had a gallery/gift shop where she sold award winning deerskin clothing and an occasional drawing. There, she met and was inspired and encouraged by a number of fine artists, and thus began a new career, one that she finds supremely fulfilling. “In Colorado I found myself plunked down amongst ranches that are still run in pretty traditional ways. They have to be, because of the terrain. Thanks to ranchers who welcomed me along on their range riding, I learned what I needed to do to stay out of the way and keep up while they did their cow work. Meanwhile, in training my own horses to negotiate mountain terrain, stand still while I photograph, and pitch in where needed, I have experienced the uniquely close bond that cowboys have with their dog and horse partners. It is an honor to be invited, and a painter must experience what they paint, in order for it to be genuine.
Having trained and competed on dressage horses on a local level for 20 years in the Midwest, Karen has not been without horses in her life since she was 20. She currently rides her hardy Quarter Horses on ranches and in the surrounding mountains. She has also acquired several Gypsy Cobs, who she drives as well as rides.
Karen paints in oils using wax medium, loving its buttery consistency. She often paints her subjects in low light as at the end or beginning of the day, symbolizing inner peace and the promise of a new beginning. She is well recognized as having a unique ability to capture an individual animal’s personality, expression and interactions. She is exacting in correctness of form and movement, and teaches drawing and painting in general, and of animals.
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