An International quarterly publication dedicated to presenting fine art
and the equestrian lifestyle inspired by the majestic beauty and love of the horse.

J&O Art Studio Cologne - Horse art

Visually guiding her readers through fictional journeys, Ruth Sanderson reveals along the way story details that might otherwise be overlooked. Through her fanciful illustrations, she introduces a new way of seeing, creating for the viewer a truly sensorial experience rich in color, mood and vivid detail. Full of whimsy and wonder, her art engages the readers to think more imaginatively, prompting them to consider the inconceivable, to believe in the impossible, and to visualize that which has never been seen. By retaining some aspects of realism, however, Sanderson's fantasy illustrations also have the power to shape our understanding of the world in which we live.Black Cloud from Horse Diaries

Genuinely believing in the authenticity of the magical creatures she depicts, Sanderson chooses not to differentiate between reality and fiction. Instead, she recognizes the ongoing narratives around her and appreciates the beauty and magic found in everyday things. This creative practice of hers began at an early age and has greatly influenced her artwork.

Ever since Ruth was a small child, her grandmother, a librarian for more than 40 years, read to her stirring her interest in storytelling. She spent much of her childhood at the local library often scouring the shelves in search of her next great adventure or grappling against her best friend Judy McDonald for the latest addition to the Black Stallion series. Even though she was a quiet and shy child, Ruth could live vicariously through the fictional characters in the stories she read experiencing, for once, their bravery and excitement.

Risky Chance from the Horse DiariesWhen she was not buried in a book, she could be found playing in the nearby woods reenacting her favorite fairytales or dreaming up storylines of her own. Fortunately for her, the McDonalds lived near an abandoned theme park, complete with a castle, miniature buildings, a fieldstone cottage and a frontier land. The girls had it all to themselves, this whimsical playground where their fantasies came alive. Filled with creative inspiration, Ruth’s imagination ran wild, and it was her penchant for the extraordinary that has brought her much success.

Like many young girls, Ruth was enthralled by stories of horses and she soon began to draw the objects of her dreams. Wanting to share her passion for depicting these animals, she led a Saturday morning art class for her closest friends. Her parents took note of her growing interest and finally agreed to get Ruth a horse. Keeping it on the McDonald’s farm, she spent most of her teenage years trail riding and showing with Judy and her fellow 4‑H friends.

On one tragic day, however, Ruth’s horse Duke was accidentally killed by a drunken hunter. Nearly crippled with grief, she later recognized this event as the end of her childhood. Although devastated, Ruth found solace in creating art, for by drawing and painting could she revisit the beauty and innocence of her imaginary world. While taking art lessons from a local teacher, Ruth began to experiment with oil paints. She was told she had natural talent which gave her confidence in her work. After years of honing her skills, Sanderson enrolled in the Paier College of Art in Hamden, Connecticut. Attempting to select her focus, she took a variety of courses in traditional drawing and painting as well as commercial art. With a love for both art and the written word, she ultimately decided to pursue a career in illustration.

Soon after graduation, Ruth found work on her own illustrating for magazines and a variety of advertisements. It did not take long for the artist to catch the attention of an agent who helped to propel her career. She spent the next five years creating children’s textbook illustrations, which eventually led to full-color cover assignments. A considerable achievement, Sanderson was asked to create 18 covers for both the Black Stallion and Nancy Drew paperback series. She had never imagined being able to work on the horse series she cherished as a child, and she was even more surprised when she was given the rare opportunity to meet the author Walter Farley. This was undoubtedly a memorable and incredibly inspirational experience for her.

Forever changing her art practice, Ruth’s big break came when she was asked to illustrate an edition of Heidi with 100 full-color paintings. While she had been using mostly fast-drying mediums such as watercolors, colored pencils, airbrush and acrylics for previous assignments, she was given a full year to complete this project allowing her to work in oil paint, her favorite medium. Able to give more time and attention to her work, Ruth’s illustrations really began to develop.

Koda from the Horse Diaries


Sanderson describes her artistic style as “magical realism,” for the worlds she creates in her illustrations are believable yet imaginary. Her work has been greatly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Their subject matter similarly drew inspiration from myths, literature and popular folklore, and was distinctive for its romantic and spiritual qualities. Valuing abundant detail, brilliant color and complex compositions, the Pre-Raphaelite ainters also embraced originality through artistic technique. Sanderson continued to illustrate a number of fairytales and children’s books including The Secret Garden, The Sleeping Beauty, The Night Before Christmas, The Nativity, Mother Goose, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

In 1990, she was asked by the publisher Little, Brown to retell The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Ruth felt a personal connection to this rite-of-passage story in which the characters had to be independent and courageous, finding their way through three woods symbolic of their transition into adulthood. Her depictions of the settings conveyed her love of nature and the woods she perceives as mystical places.

Throughout her career, Sanderson has been able to incorporate her love for equines into her work. She included magical horses in The Crystal Mountain as well as The Golden are, The Firebird and the Magic Ring for which she won the Texas Bluebonnet Award in 2003. Most recently, Ruth has been depicting the lives of different equines each telling their own tales in the Horse Diaries series. Adding to her enjoyment of the project, Ruth was proud to work with her daughter Whitney who wrote the fifth book in the series, Golden Sun, the story of an Appaloosa pony who finally discovers his calling.

Over the past 30 years, Ruth Sanderson has illustrated more than 72 children’s books, 12 of which she has both written and illustrated. She has retold many popular fairytales including Papa Gatto, Cinderella, Rose Red and Snow White, and The Snow Princess, and has written an original story The Enchanted Wood. Sanderson has received the Irma S. Black award for Best Picture Book (1992) and the Young Hoosier Award (1995) for The Enchanted Wood. Her work has been shown at The Norman Rockwell Museum; The Society of Illustrators; The Delaware Museum of Art; the Art Museum of Western Virginia; and The Words and Pictures Museum.

Ruth belongs to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Western Massachusetts Illustrator’s Guild. She occasionally teaches a summer graduate course at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. Recently acknowledged as the Artist Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention, Sanderson gave a presentation about her career titled “My Fairytale Life” and spoke on a panel discussing magical horses and other animals in fantasy stories.

Where Have the Unicorns Gone?Golden Mare, Firebird, and Magic RingHush little Horsie

 

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Fall 2010 | HORSES IN ART MAGAZINE | KIM McELROY
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HORSES IN ART - WINTER 2010 - LESLEY HARRISON
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HORSES IN ART - SPRING 2011 - JAN TAYLOR
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