When you think of it, art is a way of creating life in mental, sometimes spiritual way. Memorizing an animal in a splash of color, capturing it’s spirit between the bristles of the paint brush and transferring it to blank canvas, giving it life. With a palette of colors, thousands of artists throughout history have immortalized animals, people, places and objects, giving them life far beyond their physical time. And like every living thing, no two paintings are exactly the same. Take a look at Mona Snell’s pastel and oil paintings, for example. Each touch to the canvas carved out a hint of her subject’s personalty, whether the horse is still with us or long gone. From her use of light and darks that can only come with years of practice, to the suppleness of the leather bridle, you can feel like you already know this horse, even if you just saw it through her painting. An artist has truly achieves greatness when they can portray their subject in such a manner.
Like most destined equine artists, Mona drew horses as much as she could when she wasn’t riding horses in her home state of Illinois. Her interest in horses and art persisted as she worked as a groom for Russell Frey & Val Renihan and studied art at American Academy of Art in Chicago. She continues to broaden her knowledge in the arts by taking classes in West Palm Beach, were she now lives.
” I’ll probably die unknown but that’s OK. I don’t do art to gain recognition. I do it because I love it and I have to. Have to do it for me. It takes years to establish yourself. I’m too old to become a starving artist.”-Mona Snell
Location: West Palm Beach, Florida
Mediums: Pastels & Oils
TFS: How long have you been an equine artist?
MS: I would have to say all my life. Always wanted a horse when I was a little girl and so I was typical in I read all the books and picked out the horse I would some day own…..the breed and color and I would draw them.
TFS: When did you first start creating art? Do you/your family have an artistic background?
MS: As I said since I could hold a crayon. And my mother is artistic although she never pursued it professionally.
TFS: What mediums do you work in?
MS: Pastels and oils. I love working in both but find oils being my first choice. I work in a rather confined area and the pastel dust is everywhere. Oils are cleaner. But one day I’d love a real studio …. be it a spare room in the house or a large garage where I can work on large pieces.
TFS: Any stories surrounding your art that you would like to share?
MS: None that stick out in my mind. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have worked in the horse show industry so I know many of the world class riders and trainers in the show jumping world as well as the dressage world. So I’ve been around the great horses in those industries.
TFS: Did you go to art school?
MS: Yes…..took various classes and workshops for many years but did formal training at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Happiest days of my life. If I could I’d enroll again.
Are there any artists/people that inspire you with your art or that you admire?
MS: All the Impressionists…..Mary Cassatt. Actually here’s a story. I did a portrait of Mary Cassatt’s grand nephew! His name was Sandy Cassatt and he ran the breeding program at the Horizon Thoroughbred Farm in Barrington, Illinois. And he asked for a portrait of himself as the Master of the Hounds for a club in Virginia. Which one escapes me now. And then I did one of his wife as well. So that’s my 6 degrees from famous! ha. But back to the question….I have to say Fredrick Remington and Charles Russell come to mind ….and Chuck Close….his early works and his recent ones. That man’s simply brilliant. Then there’s Julian Merrow-Smith who I’ve done a workshop with and will do again this fall. The last two are not equine artists but I love their work. Marlene Dumas and Jenny Saville….they’re brave with their art. And of course there are so many on Art of the Horse that I’m impressed with. Too many to name.
TFS: What’s your favorite breed/discipline?
MS: Oh my! This is the hardest. I rode in the hunters…Amateur Owners and I rode thoroughbreds and Appendix Quarter Horses. But I love the Jumpers and my heart is true to thoroughbreds.
Are there any mediums you would like to try?
MS: Well, I’d love to try sculpture, but right now my time is so precious I just want to paint and draw.
Would you tell us about your process?
MS: Ha….that’s kinda funny. When studying with Julian he mixed his paint on the pallet and started with layering his darks and lights and so on. And, he changes brushes all the time. His light brushes and his darks and so on. Me…..well rarely do I change my brush although I do clean it- I mix some on the pallet but mostly on the canvas. Yep, right there on the canvas. As for pastels its constant mixing and blending. I think my technique in oils comes from how an artist works in pastels. You mix on the paper….so I’ll mix on the canvas.
Do you have any horses of your own?
MS: Alas not now. My horse died of old age 5 years ago. I had owned his dam and bred her so he was pretty special to me. Here in South Florida, boarding a horse for pleasure is too expensive. But one day I’ll have another . It’s funny in that I never thought I wouldn’t have a horse. Never and I miss it. I miss the smell and the time caring for them and of course the riding. I worked as a groom for many years and, well, I just miss it.
How would you describe your style?
MS: Loose, or trying to be. I used to do a lot of commissioned portraits and the animal had to look exactly like the animal! But honestly I find that boring so I try and loosen my style considerably. Matter of fact I normally won’t wear my glasses while painting so I don’t get bogged down on the little details I used to do. Photographic realism is for others. I so admire it but I so don’t want to do it anymore…..not that I was all that good at it anyway. Ha. I’d rather capture the spirit of the animal. That’s one reason I’d rather take the photo of whatever animal I’m portraying. You spend hours with them and you get a good feel for who and what they are……plus the owner is there telling you stories about them. That always helps.
TFS: What has been your favorite painting to date?
MS: Well recently it would have to be of one of my foster dogs Sean. I have one called I have one portrait called Satay that was a racehorse owned by a friend of mine. I like it a lot, too. Lovely, good moving animal.
TFS: Do you have any advice for other artists?
MS: Just keep doing it…..keep looking and take classes! Like here in West Palm Beach we have a place called the Armory Art School. And they have classes for adults! Take one! Take two! And do things you normally wouldn’t paint or draw. Like the plein aire workshops I take. I’m not a plein aire artist per say but I learned a lot. I hate painting green…..its hard! Its hard to highlight and shadow properly and once again I get too bogged down with detail that takes away from the painting so I forced myself to take those workshops. Of course it didn’t hurt that the first on was in Provence France and the next is in Tuscany. But regardless it makes you stretch and you always learn something! Remember not all are going to be masterpieces. At least in your mind they won’t be but you will learn something. Trust me on that……you WILL learn something. Oh, and never compare yourself to anyone!!!! If I did that I’d quit! And my art and their art is just as valid as anyone else!
TFS: Do you have any works in progress?
MS: Yes, I do. Two dogs, and a couple of horses and some goats and cows. Those last two are good sellers.
Thank you for letting me interview you, Mona!