California Riding Magazine •September, 2013

Artist Katie Upton

by Amy Benner

Red Horse #7 - 30"x24"

Art and horses have always been intertwined for equine artist Katie Upton. Horse crazy from day one, Upton began drawing as a very young child to express her enthusiasm.

"When I was young, I would draw horses because it was empowering," says Katie. "I could draw my dream horse, and get that much closer to having the perfect horse (or saddle or barn and so on)."

Katie was born and raised in Santa Barbara. The area has long been considered the haven of movie stars, but Katie's Santa Barbara is a place of oak trees and sagebrush. Here in the foothills, deer, coyotes, bobcat and the occasional bear use the myriad creeks as highways to the backcountry. The landscape is rugged, shaped by generations of forest fires and flash floods. Katie spent her childhood hiking and riding her horses all over these hills.

"I know that my experiences as a child in nature, along with my obsession with horses, contribute greatly to the art I make," she observes. She gives her parents, Barbara and Dean, a lot of credit for deciding to raise her and her two older brothers in Mission Canyon. She also recognizes the influence her father had on her career as an artist.

Foal #32 - 72"x48"

Dean Upton, who died in May 2005, was a mechanical engineer and an expert draftsman. He took his children's ideas seriously, and he encouraged drawing as a form of communication.

"Dad taught me to draw with the same seriousness as if it was a spoken language," says Katie. "I don't really think he thought of it as an art form. He always said 'An idea has to be drawn before it can
be built.'"

This early emphasis on technical skill and self-expression would prove to be the foundation for her creative process. She has worked in all mediums throughout her career, but every piece still begins as a drawing. And every piece still communicates her lifelong passion for horses.

Upton studied at the University of California, Santa Barbara, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1986 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1990.
Horses have fascinated artists for millennia, but Katie's view of them is exceptional. Her life-size—and often larger than life-size—paintings and drawings seek to capture the heart, soul and freight of the horse. Her work is far more abstract than most modern depictions of horses, which tend toward photorealism. Abstraction, however, is necessary to capture the multifaceted being that is the horse.

Palominos #51 - 72"x96"

"My knowledge of horses comes from a lifetime of observation. I work from this stored knowledge to simplify, twist, turn and exaggerate the horse's form to better express who they are."

Unsurprisingly, if she's not working on a commission of an actual horse, Katie prefers to paint big horses. She specializes in the draft and sport horse breeds, enthralled by their inexplicable balance of brute force, grace and gentleness.

"They are the embodiment of potential energy. They can be sleeping under a tree and at any moment jump straight up in the air and gallop away, come trotting back to me and be asleep again in minutes. I am inspired, humbled and star-struck by their beauty. I never tire of watching them."

Visit to view her artwork.