WHEN I CAME UP with the idea to paint horse ranches, I was 38, recently divorced, mother of 4 girls and flat broke. My cottage industry income had dissolved along with my marriage. Not one to mope, I made a list – 20 things I love most in life. So – dogs, horses, people who like dogs and horses, the river, color, photography, sleeping in, campfires, painting... I wanted to find a way to put as many of these things as I could in a job description, and I came up with "Ranch Portraits."
I BOUGHT booth space at a fancy fine-harness show in Santa Ynez. I loaded some paintings into my car, along with a suit and heels, a Western dress, a box of saltine crackers and a jar of jam. Sometimes all you need is determination.
THE FIRST DAY was terrifying but fun. I talked up my portraits like I'd been doing it forever. I ate crackers when I got hungry and I slept in my car in the parking lot. In the morning, after crackers for breakfast, I headed out to meet the day, one that turned out to be one of the best in my life.
IT WAS LIKE walking into a fairy tale. My art was a hit; I sold a couple paintings and got a couple commissions for ranch portraits. I was invited to wine and dine at several tail-gate lunches, and then flew kites on the hill in the afternoon with my new best friend, a harness-maker from Wisconsin who had the adjacent booth. I met the singer of the band that would be playing for the dinner/dance that evening in the big tent. I wasn't going ($100 ticket to get in), but he insisted, and snuck me in under the tent flap.
AND THEN SOMETHING MAGICAL happened. Everyone wanted to dance with ME! I was the belle of the ball! I was new at country dancing, but it didn't matter. I was swept off my feet, literally, until the wee hours.
DRUNK on success and relief (and wine), I finally made it back to my car. I had money in my pocket, commissions to keep me busy, and a good friend that has remained my friend to this day. In the morning I would eat some crackers and go home to real life. My life. My life as an artist.