Of Art and Horses: How I Became an Equine Sculptor - Susie Benes

Of Art and Horses: How I Became an Equine Sculptor

“No more horses, Susie”, is a phrase often used by my exasperated teachers. I spent most of my adolescence being told that horses were off-limits as the subject of my next project, book report, or art piece. This instruction was so deeply ingrained, that when it came time to do my Master’s degree, my thesis was about Gothic Architecture in Bohemia!

Fortunately, you can’t take the “horse” out of “horse crazy”, and despite these early setbacks, I have managed to recapture and channel my creativity into the one thing that truly inspires me: horses.

Susie Benes equine artist horseback riding
My happy place

 

I cannot remember a time when I did not love horses, and even from a very young age, they have formed the basis of my creative expression. How I came to be a mixed media equine sculptor is not a straightforward path, but one of persistence and a lasting passion for these magnificent animals.

Susie Benes horse drawing
A drawing from my teen years

 

I started off, as many children do, drawing. With practice my horses evolved from potatoes with legs into elegant creatures. I attended a youth art school where I experimented with various mediums and learned both traditional and innovative techniques. In university, I took diverse fine art courses, including lithography, painting, and bookbinding. I was slowly becoming a jack-of-all-trades.

Throughout my schooling in Toronto, Canada, horses were always involved: I rode and worked at various riding stables in my free time.

After attending the University of Oxford to complete my masters (where I rode at a quaint English stable!), I moved to the Czech Republic with my husband. My art fell by the wayside as I started to work full-time. Worst of all, from a horse-lover’s perspective, I found the Czech Republic an equine desert with very few riding schools and horse ownership reserved only for the exceedingly wealthy. Which, I sadly am not.

After a couple of horseless years, we moved back to Canada in 2012, and horses and art crept back into my life.

Clay horse head sculpture by Susie Benes
A sculpture starts to take shape

 

I decided that I was going to create art for myself, and there was no question as to what the subject matter would be. After all those years of being denied and denying myself in turn, I knew that all I wanted to do was make horses.

With my varied art education, I knew that in order to pursue my art seriously, I had to decide on a specific medium. I choose sculpture because I knew that working directly with my hands would be the most fulfilling and challenging.

 

An Akhal Teke foal sculpture called "Into the Sun"

 

I spent almost 2 years experimenting with various materials before I found something that met my requirements of:

  • Strong
  • Lightweight
  • Not requiring a kiln to be fired
  • Able to take paint and be combined with other materials
  • Ideally, non-toxic

I studied ceramics, polymer clay, plaster, papier mache and a whole lot of air dry clays before finding what worked best for the type of artwork I wanted to produce.

Creative Paperclay tools for sculpting
All you need to start sculpting with Creative Paperclay: water, clay and hands

 

Today, I often use a mix of clays to complete my artwork, but my primary medium is a product called Creative Paperclay, an air dry clay from Japan.

Sculptures made from this museum-quality clay can mimic the look of ceramic, but are lighter and very durable. Over the years I have developed techniques for sculpting and decorating this exciting medium, and it has allowed me to create my unique equine sculptures.

When I really began to concentrate on my art, I was able to start exhibiting in local art galleries in Vancouver, BC and branch out from there. Most recently, I had a sculpture in the Horse in Art 2016 exhibition juried by the Society of Equestrian Artists in Suffolk, England.

"Suspending Gravity II" was exhibited in the UK as part of a Horse in Art exhibition

 

If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that it is important to persevere, in both the horse and art world. There’s a saying that “In order to end up with a little money in the horse business, you have to start out with a lot”. With art it is often the same, and I am very grateful to be able to do what I do without a large trust fund at my disposal.

While I did not expect to end up here, I am very glad it turned out the way it began: with horses and art together.

Clay and wire horse foal sculpture by Susie Benes

One of the foals from the "Foals Rush In" series

 

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