Monday, September 28, 2009


Hello, and thank you for taking the time to visit my new art blog.  I thought I would use this first post to go into a bit more detail about my art background and show some examples of my earlier work in a variety of media that I've worked in (and experimented with) over the years. 

As a child, I loved, loved, LOVED horses, so they were center stage in my life.  Since I couldn't own a real one, drawing them was the next best thing.  I was never "taught" how to draw; I just copied what I saw.  My mother was an accomplished artist, and I remember looking at drawings she did as a child, and the detailed pen and ink drawings of horses and birds done while I watched, and desperately wanting to be able to draw like her!  The earliest drawing that still exists was done when I was either 8 or 9.   I probably drew it on cheap construction paper (clearly not acid free!).  Apparently, my mother was sufficiently impressed that she entered it for me in the Yavapai County Fair [Prescott, AZ], where it got a blue ribbon.  After nearly 35 years, exposed to smoke, sun, and air, it is definitely showing its age:

Early horse sketch - 4.5x6 in.,  c. 1974-75

I probably drew it from a photo, and I'm sure I added the bridle, since you just don't see photos where a horse is walking with split reins draped across its withers as I have depicted...ah, the follies of youth!

A photo I took of my first pet - a red and white Abyssinian guinea pig named Farrah - inspired this drawing, done posthumously, a few years later:
"Farrah" - graphite on paper,  9x12 in., c. 1979
(photo slightly cropped from orignal size)

Other interests turned my attention away from drawing in high school, but for some reason, I decided to pick up where I had left off during my first year of college.  Now, instead of horses, I wanted to draw people.  I never dared draw them as a kid because I thought they would be far too difficult.  But, I decided to give it a try.  Recognize the original magazine (color) ads that these drawings were done from?: 

Calvin Klein couple #1 - graphite on paper, 11x14 in.  c. 1984
[irregular color is due to uneven ambient light]

Calvin Klein couple #2 - graphite on paper, 11x14 in.  c. 1985
[irregular color is due to uneven ambient light on drawing]

These were both for Calvin Klein underwear - his and hers.   I thought the photos were beautiful depictions of the human form, and that they would look great as graphite drawings.  The fact that there were no faces to try and deal with clinched the deal.  These took me at least a month apiece to complete, and even after 25 years, remain my favorites.  They have been re-matted and framed a few times, and do show some yellowing from age.

I attended the University of Arizona from '84-'89, majoring in nutritional science/exercise physiology.  With that heavy science load, almost any class that wasn't within my college [Agriculture] or on the required class list was considered a "humanities" credit, and of the 9 units allotted, 6 went to art classes.  I desperately wanted to take a figure drawing class, but the prerequisite was Art, I took that first, and I am so glad I did.  The professor was excellent and in addition to learning about basic drawing concepts such as negative space, contour drawing, etc., we were also introduced to color via oil pastels.  Our textbook was Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, an excellent book that I would recommend to anyone wishing to learn to draw or improve their dawing skills.  I seldom drew from photos during that semester, and never for the class assignments.  The next semester, I took figure drawing, which I enjoyed as much as I thought I would.  Working from live models teaches you to work quickly and efficently and I was amazed at how much my drawing skills improved.  Learned several new techniques and  also worked in Conte' crayons.  On a whim, I entered two figurative drawings - one in ballpoint pen and one mixed media - in the Pima County fair in probably '89 or '90 and got blue ribbons for both.  Neither are in my collection anymore, although my mother owns the pen and ink.  It never occurred to me to take photos of any of the artwork I did and gave away to [usually] boyfriends as gifts.

Towards the end of my Art 101 class semester, I recall having a conversation with the professor, and asking him if he thought it would be useful to maybe obtain a double-major in art, or a minor.  He looked at me, and said:  "Don't waste your time with that - just go for a Master's [MFA]."  I wish I'd taken his advice, but as is often the case, hindsight is 20/20.  Instead, I chose to continue with my plans to go to podiatric medical school.  After all, everyone knows how difficult it is to make a living as an artist, how competitive that industry is, and how lucrative the medical profession is...right?  Right.  I would always have art as my passion and hobby, I reasoned, and medicine as a profession.

I entered the class of 1994 at what was then CCPM in San Francisco, CA, excited about becoming a foot doctor.  During your first year of medical school, you learn anatomy and other basic science classes.  As a podiatrist, your specialty is the foot and ankle, so in addition to our general anatomy class, we also had a lower extremity anatomy class:  musculoskeletal structures from the pelvis down, and including the spine.  As part of this class, we were each checked out 1/2 of a skeleton for study.  This turned out to be quite fortuitous for me - I was able to accomplish two things at the same time:  keeping up with my drawing habit and learning anatomy.  On weekend nights, when UCSF and SFU students were out partying, I was sitting in my bedroom in the two-story flat I shared with 3 other medical students, drawing and labeling bones.  Thankfully, these were all in a sketchbook which has remained in my posession.  Here are a few of the drawings.  All are c. 1990-'91:

Left os coxa -  graphite on paper, 8x10 in.

  Posterior distal femur and articular surface - graphite and colored pencil on paper, 8x10 in.
Anatomical joints of the tarsus - graphite and colored pencil on paper, 8x10 in.
Functional joints of the tarsus - graphite and colored pencil on paper, 8x10 in.

During the year, I thought my LEA professor might find the drawings interesting, so I showed her the sketchbook.  Almost immediately, she asked if I would be interested in doing medical illustrations as work study for next year's syllabus.  Get paid to draw?  No need to ask twice!  Since the illustrations needed to be easily reproducible, they needed to be in pen and ink - a medium I'd never used before.  I was supremely lucky to find a used copy of an outstanding book on scientific illustration, by Phyllis Woods.  I bought a crow-quill pen set and using techniques in the book, taught myself how to use this medium.  Unfortunately, I never thought to keep copies of all the illustrations I did for any type of portfolio. 

In addition to this work-study job, I also did illustrations for our school newsletter and also designed our class t-shirt.  I remember a classmate saying to me at one point:  "Why didn't you become an artist instead of going to medical school?"  Good question, that.  At the time, I told him I thought I probably had more to offer as a physician than as an artist.  Later on, one of the biomechanics professors hired me to do two freelance medical illustrations, one of which was published in a journal and the other used in a slide lecture series.  I got paid more than workstudy wages, and it was a fun challenge to boot.

Being able to utilize the left side of my brain allowed me to do well enough in school to secure a sought-after 3-year surgical residency after graduation.  It was during the fall of my internship year ('94) that I stumbled across the art/craft/hobby genre of "customized model horses".  I had no experience with sculpture at all, but my interest in horses, combined with my knowledge of human anatomy and how structure and movement relate to the three body planes, I had a decent baseline to start.

Realistic equine sculpture, generally a mixed media type of work, is what I'm best known for, and the body of work that I've documented pretty well.  My website, although not current for a bit over a year, shows a relatively recent selection of my paintings on the sculpture "canvases", all of which were sculpted by a variety of talented artists.  All my current work is done in oil on an airbrushed gesso and acrylic underpainting, although my initial attempts were in hand-painted acrylics...a medium that I have never come to embrace or developed any skill at using.

I've never done watercolor - it has always seemed to me to be the most difficult and demanding of all the media, as it is often difficult, if not impossible, to correct mistakes.  Perhaps when I have been painting in oils for a few more years, I'll give it a try.  The closest I've come was hand-painting a ceramic tile.  Joanie B, a very talented ceramic artist, had a table set up at an equine art show one year, where people could hand paint a tile that she would then glaze and mount in a frame, if desired.  The reference photo was taken from a mazagine, and the water-soluble ceramic pigment applied in thin washes, much like I assume watercolors are.  It took me a good few hours to do this, and I ended up doing a tile for Joanie as well:

Ceramic art tile set in black frame - 6x6 in.  c. 1999

After I finished my residency, I moved to Flagstaff, AZ to set up my practice.  During my 4-year stay there, I actually supported myself via commissions and one of a kind sculptures that I sold via my website.  I maintained my sketching habit, and did a handful of pastels.  I started out using cheap Alphacolor pastels on regular drawing paper, but then added some Rembrandts and switched to Canson Mi-Tientes.  This one, done 10 years ago, was based on an photo ad in Conquistador magazine [for Spanish breed horses] that I believe may have been taken by Robert Varva.  I drew it one evening and it is probably my favorite pastel painting to date.  Because taking it out of the frame would permanently strip the hanging wire screws in the back, I had to take the photo with the glass - glare, reflections and all.  But, it gives you an idea.  I think this was the last pastel I completed as well. 

Close-up of Peruvian Paso - pastel on Mi-Tientes pastel paper, 12x18 in. c. 1998

While in Flagstaff, I met and became friends with the race director of the Northland Hospice Run for Your Life 10K roadrace.  I had written an article for the local paper as part of the race promotion on health, and she came over to my office to discuss something pertaining to the 2002 race, and after seeing another pastel (landscape) hanging in my office, asked if I would consider doing the artwork for the following years' race t-shirt and poster design.  It didn't pay, but what a great opportunity for some exposure!  I ended up closing my practice and relocating it to Chino Valley, AZ by then, but I ended up doing the designs for 2003 and 2004.  Here is the '03 artwork, cropped from the poster: 

Run For Your Life '03 - acrylic and gouache on 300# watercolor paper, 8x10 in.

I stopped drawing and doing any type of 2D work completely in 2004, probably after the last RFYL design.  I tried putting more of my energy into making my 2nd (and then 3rd) practice locations work, so the artwork took a sideline.  I never stopped daydreaming about painting the surrounding landscapes.  I purchased a 2nd digital camera with the intent to take reference photos of remote places (namely, the inner depths of the Grand Canyon) for later painting material.  But, for years, I did nothing except collect more pastels, fancy paper and an inspiring library of books.   I continued to do commissions on the resin blanks, but I was finding it harder to get motivated, and as my techniques were changing, it was now taking *longer* to paint a piece. 

A series of personal and business events led me to close my failing medical practice for the 3rd and final time, retire from medicine, and relocate to coastal CT with my boyfriend for a job he was offered for a 4-year committment.  This also gave me the opportunity to pursue art full-time, as I wasn't going to have to fully support myself.  It sounded good in theory, but I found it increasingly difficult to discipline myself to work on equine art commissions. 

Earlier this year, after a trip back to southern AZ, I decided that it was time for me to change the direction of my art and pursue more 2D work and perhaps some non-equine sculpture.   Whereas I have developed a good eye for color and color mixing, that has been limited to equine coat colors - I don't have 15 years of experience painting skies, foliage and everything else that I want to do.  And, drawing, just like any other skill, subscribes to the "use it or lose it" school, and boy, were my drawing skills rusty!  I have begun to draw semi-regularly since early July, but I'm trying to make that happen every day.   After years of painting in multiple thin layers where the paint is controlled and blended to create realism, and where visible brushstrokes are a fault, it is like starting from scratch.  While I admire and appreciate realism when it is in the form of graphite drawings, and paintings of animals and some florals, that is not the ultimate direction I wish to head with my paintings, particularly landscapes. 

I could also see myself getting into ceramics a bit more.  They offer endless possibilities for artists, and that appeals to me greatly.  For the past two years, my friend and fellow artist Sarah Minkiewicz-Breuning, has hosted a mini-retreat at her house in Boise, ID.  She has a fully fleshed-out ceramics studio and this year, I finally got to complete the custom glazing on one of her beautiful slipcast ceramic sculptures, under her expert tutelage:

"Reflective" - bas-relief warmblood sculpted by Sarah M-B, painted in art glaze for base and 2 underglaze firings for horse prior to final high gloss clear glaze.  Completed June '09. 

With that, the introduction to my art background ends and a different direction begins.  If you have read all of this, I thank you.  Some people may find the lack of a single theme or medium in my artwork and this blog to be distracting, and I totally get that.  As time goes on and my skills improve and expand, I assume my focus will naturally narrow and my personal style will start to evolve.  At this point, I want to try different things and see what works and what doesn't, and this blog will be a perfect venue for sharing with folks who are maybe in a similar place in their artistic travels. 




  1. Omg what IS it about those Calvin Klein ads? I did a charcoal from one myself after just being in AWE of the photographic composition. lol! Love your stuff - fascinating to see chica!! :D -Morgen

  2. Thanks, Morgen! What is interesting about those ads is that the product being advertised(underwear) isn't even's merely alluded to. I'm sure the ads were successful, too.

  3. Hi Sonya! I've been following your blog for a while and love your landscapes! Since I was reading the blog posts backwards timewise, I only get to read this post, which is an excellent introduction, today. I was quite puzzled before reading it reading why there aren't any paintings on your website, only horse sculptures ;-P I'm very impressed by the high quality of your plein air work, as well as your perseverance in your "100 Plein air" project! Good luck with your trip to Utah! I'm looking forward to see the artworks you will create on this trip...


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

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