As horse people, there’s a lot we love about our new books for young horse lovers: CROWN PRINCE and CROWN PRINCE CHALLENGED. We totally identify with author Linda Snow McLoon’s sense of time in a horse barn—the smells, sounds, and daily chores that make up horsekeeping and enthrall thousands of young people the world over. We appreciate her attention to “horsey details” often neglected by writers less in tune with what makes a real riding stable go ’round.
And of course, we LOVE the book covers! We are thrilled by artist Jennifer Brandon’s depictions of a young girl and the horse that owns her heart. In the course of her career, Jen has captured the the charm and personality of all kinds of animals—from beloved pets to working class farm animals to million-dollar racehorses. Oil on canvas is her medium, while artistic passion and an understanding of an animal’s personality bring her portraits to life.
We had a chance to talk to Jen about her painting process and ask her how she brings portraits to life. Check out this terrific video where she summarizes the creation of the cover art for CROWN PRINCE CHALLENGED:
TSB: Can you tell us a little about how you became an artist specializing in animal portraiture, specifically dogs and horses?
Jen: Growing up as a farm girl amidst everything alive and beautiful, my love for horses, dogs, and all animals became a very integral part of who I am today. Now, it seems the more people I meet, the more I love horses, dogs, and all animals.
Seriously though, raising horses as a child and having a mom who is a masterful painter who always encouraged me to follow my dreams, pursuing my passion for painting and specializing in equestrian and pet portraits was pretty much a no-brainer.
TSB: Can you describe a little about your creative process and the techniques you use?
Jen: My medium of choice is oil paints, typically on canvas, linen, or board. I love taking still photos of horses I’ve seen in action and re-imagining them through active brushwork on the canvas. It is so much fun to spend late nights in the studio with Billy Joel (my go-to music for painting inspiration) blasting through the speakers. Dancing around with paintbrushes in one hand and a cup of strong coffee in the other, I allow paint to move from my brush to the canvas as the horse emerges from the white canvas.
It all starts with imagining the final image on that stark white canvas. Then I mix together my base color and carefully lay the foundation for the composition. Before I know it, bold fast strokes collaborate with careful meticulous strokes to create a sense of action and movement. I love contrasting colors and values to evoke a mood of drama, while more related subtle tones give tribute to a fond memory.
TSB: What is your experience illustrating print books and what do you like best about it?
Jen: I’m thankful to have had the privilege of illustrating several children’s books. I remember devouring illustrations as a child, page by page. Through bright watercolors and energetic line, I like to encourage creativity and the concept of thinking outside the box and drawing outside the lines. Of course it’s fun to develop the story board, and begin the painting process. But I love seeing the crayon drawings it inspires children to create.
TSB: How did you come up with the image of Sarah Wagner and Crown Prince for the new BROOKMEADE YOUNG RIDERS fiction series?
Jen: After reading about the moment with Sarah and Crown Prince in the barn, it sparked an image of the immediate connection between horse and girl—a concept that hits home for me.
TSB: Do your subjects, whether fictional or real, “come alive” for you as you paint them? How do you imagine Sarah and Crown Prince would be if you met them in real life?
Jen: More often than not my subjects “come alive” for me. Thankfully my dog is always in my studio with me, so I can always say I was just talking to him…and not my painting. I mean, who would ever talk to a painting?
I do, however, imagine Sarah being very similar to me and my best friends growing up. I feel we could all relate to her connection with Crown Prince. She seems like someone I would’ve enjoyed hanging out with.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember drawing or painting a horse.
Jen: If you look through all my sketch books from my childhood you’ll see a recurring theme…horses…horses…horses. I LOVED drawing horses. I cannot remember the very first time I drew a horse. But I can, however, remember the first commission I received to draw a horse. I was 9 years old. A sweet elderly woman from my church saw an opportunity to encourage a young girl and she paid me $75 to create a conté crayon drawing of a horse for her niece. I’d love to meet her again some day to thank her.
TSB: Do you still ride horses? If so, what do you like best about riding?
Jen: Unfortunately I haven’t ridden since high school. But I can tell you what I used to love most about riding was jumping on the back of my quarter horse and riding bareback and bitless and getting lost in the woods for hours on a breezy fall day with my best friends riding alongside me.
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse (or a dog!) and a book, what breed of horse (or dog!) would it be and which book would you choose?
Jen: I would have to choose my good ole’ Great Dane. He’s my studio buddy, and only he knows just how goofy I can get while painting.
As far as a book goes, it would have to be Crown Prince Challenged, of course, as I haven’t been able to read the second one in the series yet!
TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?
Jen: Butter and true maple syrup. Sometimes I think I could happily live off of those two ingredients. Romaine lettuce is also a staple.
TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Jen: Perfect happiness….I’m not sure I can do the description justice. But it would definitely have to do with being tuned in to what Christ has in store for me, and living my life in a way that reflects his grace, creativity and love. Having a healthy family and friends. Enjoying painting outside on a beautiful fall day. Gardening barefoot. Or finally completing a rock climb that’s been spitting me off!
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?
Jen: Honesty and the ability to laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse (or dog)?
Jen: I can be as goofy and ridiculous as I want and they will never tell!
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?
Jen: Wild caught salmon grilled to perfection with maple syrup, a side of roasted root veggies, fresh salad greens and tomatoes from our garden with mozzarella cheese, and a side of yummy garlic bread. Completed with dessert, fresh berries and ice cream from a local farm and a good strong cup a’ jo.
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?
Jen: I was going to say it’s a tie between painting in Rockport Massachusetts, or climbing in Boulder, Colorado, but then I remembered Italy. Italy takes the cake!
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?
Jen: Rien Poortvliet. I’ve found him to be one of the most inspiring painters and illustrators. Not bound to presuppositions or boxes of any sort. He obviously loved his animals and was a phenomenal painter.
TSB: What is your motto?
Jen: “. . . a piece of a beautiful moment.” Derived from a moment in Sienna, Italy, where a grandfather helped his little granddaughter learn how to ride a bike for the first time on the cobblestone streets. A moment when I happened to be a bystander, watching that precious time and relationship. These are the moments that bring a smile to my face. These are the moments that make up our lives. These are the moments I love to express through paint.
Learn more about Jennifer Brandon and her superb creative talent at www.jachestudio.com.