Combining her love of art with a love of animals, Stephanie Hardy’s paintings capture the joyful and innocent spirit of her subjects. An avid equestrian nearly all her life, Stephanie’s journey with painting began with portraits of horses, which later evolved into portraits of all kinds of animals. With its bold, eye-catching patterns and unique color combinations, Stephanie’s work is reflective of her background in graphic design, and radiates a sense of confidence and positivity. What is perhaps most striking about Stephanie’s work, however, is how her connection with the animals she depicts shines through the canvas– one of the many reasons why we have chosen Stephanie as this week’s Artist You Need To Know.
Vango: Why do you do what you do?
Stephanie: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t creating. Whether it be drawing, sewing, painting, sculpting, playing music, needlepoint…you name it, my hands were busy with it. My mother was a massive creative influence on me. She was a beautiful seamstress, needle point artist, entrepreneur, art teacher for children, french teacher…the list could go on. She could hand-make anything (although surprisingly cooking was not part of her repertoire)! Being in a home that embraced all things handmade has led me to this feeling of being at home when I’m creating. It feeds my soul to make art. I have had other jobs, a career in graphic design that paid the bills and kept me in the creative field enough to stay interested. But I found being behind a computer screen 10+ hours a day was soul sucking and the constant creative control that exists at a corporate level was just not the artistic dream job I once thought it to be. Taking a huge leap of faith, I dove head on into a full time career as a painter and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. Doing what I love has made all the difference in my life. And of course the reward of bringing joy to others through my artwork, makes all the struggles of being an artist worthwhile.
V: How would you describe your work?
S: At a recent art show, I had a customer come up to my work and explain to me how “happy” my work was and how you could walk into my booth and can’t help but feel a lightness, a joy. I heard this over and over again and it made me step back and look around me…and it was true! My work is bright and colorful, the animals remind people of their own experiences with them. Children are drawn to them. It really was a positive experience for my audience. So I guess I would describe my work as vibrant and joyful.
The evolution of one of Stephanie’s works
V: What are some of the techniques you use?
S: I’m pretty traditional in terms of technique. I sketch out my composition with graphite, typically the animal is first and then I choose a background pattern after I finish painting the animal. I use acrylic paint, mainly because it dries faster than oils, and I paint on gallery wrapped canvas or birchwood. I always start with the eyes and nose of the figure I’m painting, because they are the most difficult, but also the most fun. I choose images from photographs provided by customers or from photographs that inspire me. My backgrounds have largely been inspired by vintage fabrics, which tend to be floral. I have also embellished a few pieces with colorful gems or gold and silver studs adhered directly onto the canvas. Lastly, I wire each painting so they are ready to hang in their new homes.
V: Who are some of the biggest inspirations on your art?
S: I have certainly gone through so many phases of inspiration. My classic favorites won’t ever change- Frida Kahlo, Marc Chagall, Cezanne, Matisse. But currently, I would have to say that the artist Ashley Longshore, a pop artist from New Orleans, has really been an inspiration. Her artwork is bold and outspoken, as is the artist’s own personality. I love how she just paints what she wants and is who she is…girl boss power to the maximum. Peggy Judy, a Southwestern artist and Luli Wallace, a young artist from Charleston have also been on my radar. I think one of the most intriguing things about these women is their success at building a business out of doing what they love.
V: What inspires you to paint animals?
S: Originally, I was drawn to painting horses because they have been my life for 25 years and I just love them! It was a natural direction to go with my artwork. As my equine work evolved, people began requesting portraits of their own horses and then that led to painting dogs and cats for customers all over the world. Animals have always been a part of my life. My father’s family owned many beautiful exotic birds, my mother showed dogs, we’ve had cats, parakeets, horses and now we have two French Bulldogs. We connect with our animals and I think my paintings evoke connections that other people have had with animals. I probably subconsciously prefer painting animals because I have a positive connection to them.
The paintings feel happy to me. I’ve worked on portraits of children in the past and they’ve all turned out wonderfully, but I really have to connect with the child to feel like the painting will translate well. I remember one piece I did of a child holding a stuffed animal- It struck such a weird chord with me, bringing up memories of being shuffled back and forth between homes after my parents divorced. Feeling alone, the only constant in my life was my stuffed bear (which eventually got left on a plane en route to my dad’s house one summer- painful beyond belief for a 5 year old). So…no more children’s portraits! I’m like other artists though, I have artist ADD and have to change it up once in awhile. I threw in some iconic figures this year- John Lennon, Paul Newman, Ernest Hemingway, Frida, Marilyn Monroe were a few. They were a total blast to make, but painting the animals is still my jam.
V: Out of all your works, do you have a personal favorite?
S: How can you pick just one!? From my current collection, I have to say my Frida Khalo painting has won me over. Frida is easily my favorite female artist of all time and I just felt like painting her iconic portrait one day. This piece is full of color and pattern, paying homage to her unique sense of style. This piece was recently included in an art show and I snuck a “sold” sticker on it just because I couldn’t quite part with her yet! I just had her framed as well, so she now hangs proudly against my freshly painted deep blue accent wall, where I see her everyday.
V: What artistic style(s) might you classify your work under?
S: I have been crucified for describing my work as “contemporary,” however…it technically is contemporary animal portraiture. What I really love about my recent work is how I have been able to incorporate patterns and textile designs into each piece. When I was a child, my mother would take me with her to fabric stores and I just loved the endless bolts of colorful fabrics and each of their unique designs. My creative mind raced with ideas for each swatch of fabric I saw-the possibilities seemed infinite. Flash forward to last spring, when I stumbled upon this Vintage Parisian fabric and just fell in love with it and have since started painting these designs in the backgrounds of my animal portraits. Some of the designs mimic Baroque styles, some are more art-deco, some could be in the folk-art family, and I believe a couple have an asian art influence I love them all! I really feel that the patterned backgrounds add character to my paintings and set them apart from traditional animal portraiture.
V: Do you like listening to music in the studio? If yes, what are some of your favourite artists/albums to listen to?
S: Great question…I am inclined to latch onto something and listen to it to death. Last year it was a Podcast called True Murder, which featured interviews of authors who wrote about true crime. I know, gross…but totally fascinating. I binged on this for months and then one day I couldn’t take it anymore, I was over it. I had enough of the murder and crime. I laugh now looking back as I was painting countless happy pet portraits during the holiday season while listening to the gruesome details of homicide.
I have since worked my way onto the opposite side of the spectrum to a Podcast called Creative Pep Talk, hosted by Andy J. Miller, an illustrator. I can’t believe I didn’t discover this sooner. Andy is so inspirational and such a guiding light in dark times- be them personal, creative, political or otherwise. Every creative should be listening to this…every human should, honestly. His frequent encouragement to create meaningful connections, meaningful work rather than chasing the “likes” strikes such a chord with me right now. I can’t say enough about how good this podcast is. Visit his website and podcast here: http://www.andy-j-miller.com/cpt/
Stephanie riding one of her horses
V: What is something you like to do when you are not creating?
S: When I’m not busy painting, you will find me at the barn with my horses, Bing and Rory. They were both imported from Europe as show jumpers and I ride and train with them about 5 days a week. Riding is my second passion and is something that has given me great joy, as well as a profound sense of well-being and grounded-ness. The smell of horse sweat in the summer, the tickle of their nose searching for treats in your hand, the dirt under your fingernails, horsehair everywhere, the adrenaline rush over a big jump, the winning round at a big competition- it all fills my heart and I can’t imagine life without it. There is something about a horse that is simply magical!
More of Stephanie’s Art…